Ryan Calais Cameron’s play Typical is a one-man monologue based on the story of Black British ex-serviceman Christopher Alder.
Taking to the stage alone, Richard Blackwood’s (EastEnders, Hollyoaks) performance is captivating. While his northern accent is questionable at times, Blackwood delivers a charismatic performance that I believe would have been even greater energised by the presence of an in-house audience. While his grooving to Chaka Demus & Pliers’ Bam Bam and desperate attempts to catch the beat on a drum and bass track revealed him to be a decent dancer, I felt the presence of an in-house audience might have caused Blackwood to ramp up the comic potential of these moments.
It is also clear that Blackwood and director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour have put a lot of time into working out how best to lift Ryan Calais Cameron’s intricate language off the page. The play feels like an extended spoken-word monologue, with Blackwood impeccably capturing the rhythm and pace of Cameron’s words, never letting the energy drop throughout the 60-minute performance. Cameron’s virtuosity as a playwright is demonstrated in the subtle changing of the meaning of “typical” as it is repeated throughout the play. I also found the description of Blackwood’s character being the only “coco pop in a bowl of milk” to be a particularly original way of describing the feeling of being racialised.
Osei-Kuffour’s excellent direction is also demonstrated in Blackwood’s accomplished multi-rolling. In one section of the play, Blackwood performs an extended conversation between his character and a woman he meets in the nightclub. It was very entertaining watching Blackwood switch between embodying the woman, moving his hips and looking up flirtatiously, to re-occupying his own body and looking down at the woman flirting with him. With this filmed performance, however, some of the magic of watching an actor bounce from embodying one character to another before your eyes was lost as the camera angles kept switching, rather than occupying the static position of an audience member. I found myself feeling that the camera work was, at times, too showy and detracted from what I really wanted to see: a man act in an empty space.
It was, perhaps, these problems with camera work that also made a fight that occurs towards the middle of the play feel like it lacked tension. Of course, it is almost an impossible task for a single actor to perform himself being beaten up by a group of men. Nevertheless, I feel that the camera work made it very difficult to actually see the fight choreography being performed by Blackwood. Alternatively, perhaps the fight happened too quickly. It is such an integral part of Christopher Alder’s tragic story, but in this performance, it almost felt like too much attention was paid to staging the actual movements of the fight, rather than focusing on how scared or angry Blackwood’s character might feel.
In fact, while the last lines of the play were movingly delivered by Blackwood, it did generally feel that he was more comfortable performing the comical sections of the play, than really letting his character be vulnerable and afraid as the play drew to a close.
Overall, Typical is an energising and sensitive play, and Blackwood excellently humanises and makes the audience empathise with its central character. The play perfectly enunciates the contemporary experience of tragedy in which events don’t have to be of Ancient Greek proportions to be tragic, but rather one can simply be an ordinary Black man in a systemically racist world in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Typical is available at Soho Theatre online until March 31st 2021. Find out more here.