Theatre Review: Death of England: Delroy // National Theatre

Photo Credit: Normski

Delroy is a bailiff. Delroy is under house arrest. Delroy is a father. And Delroy is Black.

This last part, he seems to be trying to forget. He piles on other titles that he claims to identify with, on top of his race, trying to hide his blatant ‘otherness’ that is evident in the hostile environment of 2020 London.

Death of England: Delroy, at its core, is a play about identity. We define ourselves based on our relationships and actions, and it seems that for his entire life, Delroy has tried to distance himself from his race. This is an unfortunate side effect of the pervasive racism in the United Kingdom – it has turned inward, and Delroy’s self-loathing is apparent in everything he says and does, even if he seems to be confident and self-assured as he struts around the tiny stage he inhabits.

Photo Credit: Normski

In a snappy, urgent 90-minute monologue, performed entirely by Michael Balogun, Delroy begins to unpick how he fits into the racial debate that rages behind the scenes in this country. He vigorously defends his job as a bailiff, and the fact that he voted for Brexit, but when he pauses for breath, the emptiness of the space around him echoes far louder than any of the things he uses to justify himself. He may, outwardly, seem like he is proud of his job and his political leanings, but it’s difficult to cover his defensiveness with the swagger he puts forth. Despite the fact that he is the only person onstage, Delroy talks himself in circles when trying to justify himself to us: though he is alone on stage, his head is full of other’s opinions.

Balogun, who was originally the play’s understudy, gives an electrifying performance, occupying every nook of the space he is given. It’s a very small space – like the prow of a ship, two walkways intersect in a dark, almost empty auditorium. Reminiscent of Yerma (2017) at The Young Vic, part of the stage is surrounded by perspex, which becomes Delroy’s literal prison when he runs into the police at a Tube station and looms in the background throughout the entire play. Beyond this, the staging is minimal. Balloons spelling out the word ‘girl’ hang above Delroy’s head, and he changes into a suit jacket at once, but beyond this, the play is all Balogun.

Photo Credit: Normski

He occupies every inch of the tiny stage, and perhaps this is why there is so little needed to bolster his performance – he is so mesmerising that anything else would be either a distraction or easily ignored.

Death of England: Delroy is the follow on to the original play, Death of England. A monologue delivered by Rafe Spall earlier this year, it focused on Michael, a white, working-class man who struggles to come to terms with the death of his racist father. At one point, during the funeral, he lets rip at Delroy for voting for Brexit, and makes comments on the concept of ‘Britishness’.

This follow-on not only hits back at Michael for daring to speak for Delroy, for speaking over him and making assumptions about his politics but also kind of proves him right, though I say that with no joy. Delroy will never be truly British – he will never win the ‘whiteness’ that he desires, though he has tried his hardest.

Photo Credit: Normski

His identity well and truly deconstructed around him, Delroy reaches out to his newborn daughter for a new sense of identity. And so, he presents himself with a baby carrier on his chest like a suit of armour and attempts to build himself anew.

Words by Maddy Raven.

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