The Theatreguide.London Review
Dorfman Theatre Winter-Spring 2020
There is a restless energy to the monologue Death of England, by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, which is given a riveting, sometimes unsettling performance by Rafe Spall as Michael Fletcher, whose father died while they watched England being defeated in the 2018 World Cup.
The play opens with flashes of light, illuminating briefly in the pitch-black darkness of the stage images of Michael with drinks in a bar, taking cocaine in a toilet and swaying drunk as he puts on a shirt for a funeral. In the intervening darkness, the menacing soundscape includes troubling fragments of males chanting 'Engerland'.
The mood then switches, as Michael wanders across sections of the performance space shaped as the red cross of England, his laddish banter playfully warming the audience with amusing comments and offers of biscuits. Soon he is emotionally recalling his father, and the racism his father generally kept for private occasions, and away from the stall where he sold flowers. At football matches where his friends would throw bananas onto the pitch. he would say there was a 'time and place' for that kind of thing.
Michael may at times have shared his father's expressions of racism, but it didn't stop him being best friends from schooldays with the black Delroy
By the funeral, Michael is fuelled with alcohol, rage and grief. He quotes his father as saying 'England is an island of shit crawling up the arses of Boris, Corbyn and Trump' and being angry with his daughter for 'living of benefits all her life'.
Yet for all the ferocity of that speech, there emerges here and elsewhere a more contradictory picture of father and son and their racism. Michael says his father 'was lonely and confused like his country'.
However having taken us on a terrifying ride with the pair's racism and rage for two thirds of the play, there is an improbable plot twist with more to follow that changes the mood and our opinion of the characters.
The play offers a remarkable performance by Rafe Spall whose voice must surely crack under the strain. Clint Dyer's direction never eases the dramatic tension which is intensified by the disturbing soundscape of Pete Malkin and Benjamin Grant.
It doesn't shine much of a light on the growing levels of
racism in Britain, but it's a hell of a ride.
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