Kingston 14 Is A Hard-Boiled Caribbean Cop Opera

Brian Bovell (Marcus) and Goldie (Joker). Photo Credit Robert Day.

Brian Bovell (Marcus) and Goldie (Joker). Photo Credit Robert Day.

Playwright Roy Williams returns to Stratford East where his career started with a ferocious new play that is dark, funny and brutal, a pointed attack on police corruption and the criminal underclass in Jamaica’s sun-soaked capital. It stars the multi-talented Goldie in his stage debut as local crime-lord Joker, arrested after a nervy showdown in the precinct building in connection with the murder of a high-profile British businessman.

Joker says little but his coiled presence dominates proceedings. He glowers down from his cell and prowls around in circles like a caged tiger while the cops below try to figure out how best to frame him for the death. This routine stitch-up is then complicated by the arrival of James (Derek Elroy), a well-spoken Englishman sent over by the London Met to assist with the investigation. But James’s by-the-book approach is an unwelcome distraction that both shines a light on the dodgy local concept of rough justice and allows Joker the time to turn the tables and secretly master-mind a hostage situation of his own.

Kingston 14 is a richly-woven and morally complex cop opera with great performances across the board. Brian Bovell and Trevor Laird excel as the old guard struggling to come to terms with the state of modern Jamaica, while Ashley Chin and Charles Venn are terrific as two younger cops, full of vim and vinegar and obsessed with American culture.

The writing is consistently hilarious and mostly delivered in Jamaican Patois, which does take a while to tune into fully, though don’t worry, there are subtitles (which also at times add an extra layer to the comedy, for example when one mouth-filling string of cuss-words is translated simply as “you idiot”). Clint Dyer’s dynamic direction balances the laughs with the tense scenes of gun-play to create a blistering comedy-thriller that digs deeper than the average genre entry.

Kingston 14 is on at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 26 April 2014.

Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

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