Honor Douglas enjoys the spirit and innovation of National Theatre’s ‘Death of England: Delroy’, a Black working class man’s search for truth and struggle for identity.
‘Death of England: Delroy’ is a striking sequel to Roy William and Clint Dyer’s play performed earlier this year, ‘Death of England,’ shown in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and a world yet to experience lockdown. While the first of the one-man shows explored Michael’s – who is white – acceptance of the death of his racist father, the second seemingly never-ending monologue discusses racism in Britain from Black, pro-Brexit Delroy’s point of view. Delroy speaks to his friend Michael, from the first production, throughout.
The charismatic performance of Michael Balogun as Delroy demonstrates the power of a RADA education; his diction is immaculate, his energy is masterful, and his anger is contagious. Masterfully, Balogun only pauses irregularly to take a swig from his can of Guinness. Delroy’s painful monologue commands sympathy from the audience, while simultaneously evoking laughter and a strong sense of frustration for him.
The simplistic costume of a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms forces viewers to focus on the entertaining performance of Balogun, which is enhanced by Jackie Shemesh’s atmospheric lighting design. Different colours represent the development of his anger, red being the deepest feelings of sadness, and blue being the ever-growing frustration at the difficulties he experiences due to the colour of his skin.
The shocking and powerful opening pre-recorded sound, which states that the audience should keep their ‘Social, racial distance,’ sets the path for the rest of the show. Telephone calls occur between Delroy and his child’s future grandmother, despite being a one-man show, through a voice effect on Delroy’s microphone. Not only did this moment communicate Balogun’s talent as an actor to the audience, but also accurately demonstrated racism from an older age. Racism from his generation is communicated through Balogun using a different pitch to portray his ‘everything’, the future mother of his child Carly, ‘jokingly’ telling him that, ‘Once you’ve had black you never go back,’ supposedly without noticing the severity of her racist words. This statement is shocking to the audience, and yet Delroy moves on quickly, jokingly discussing his sexual drive as a fifteen-year-old. This moment, as many others also do, communicate how the constant racism in society forces those discriminated against to move on quickly, despite the hurtful nature of slurs and words. Yet, Delroy loses his control when he is put in prison as his Carly goes into labour; this is the climax of the production, and ultimately leads to the powerful ending, where Delroy’s love for his child, combined with his fears for her future, are most clear.
Unfortunately, a recorded performance of a live theatre performance never has the same effect on the audience as initially intended. While the innovative script contains shocking elements of the life-story of Delroy, some signs telling audiences to social distance distract viewers momentarily. However, the in-the-round stage allows audiences to see the reactions of other audience members and notice the demographic, which is fortunate, as this could easily be something missed by watching the performance on video.
‘Death of England: Delroy’ is one of the few performances to come out of the National Theatre this year, and is therefore an essential watch for all, if not only to see that theatre in Covid times is a possible yet tricky feat. Furthermore, it is a very contemporary piece of theatre, created during lockdown and articulating the need for the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK with clarity.
‘Death of England: Delroy,’ is available to be streamed on The National Theatre’s YouTube Channel until 7pm on Saturday 28th November.