Following the success of Ryan Calais Cameron’s Typical in 2019 at the Edinburgh Fringe and its sell-out run at the Soho Theatre, Nouveau Riche and Soho Theatre have now produced a film version of the stage play, streamed on Soho Theatre on Demand. Based on the horrific, tragic true story of Christopher Alder, a Black British ex-serviceman, Typical follows a day and a night of Alder’s experience of everyday racism and police violence in the late 1990s. Over twenty years on, the story is still very much relevant and spine-shivering to see laid out in this intimate multi-rolling monologue that EastEnders star Richard Blackwood expertly delivers.
Typical is a shocking, powerful and thought-provoking piece, with a lyrical, poetic script from Cameron, coupled with incredible acting talent from Blackwood; the two working in a symbiotic relationship, Blackwood naturally fitting into the flowing rhythm of the lines. The harshly colourful lighting adds a slight clinical tone to the show, further intensifying the world’s apparent distance from Alder, as he attempts to push through daily life, constantly seen as an outcast. The story starts with the beginning of a seemingly average, ‘typical’ day for Alder – an innocent, slightly insecure and lonely middle-aged black man. As the day and night move on, various racist micro-aggressions build and build, as Alder’s suppressed frustrations and hurt bubble under the surface. Events spiral out of control, the viewer left shocked at the unbelievably horrific and inhumane treatment of Alder – a man who just wants to be home and safe.
For theatre lovers, it’s never going to be exactly the same, immersive experience as the ‘real thing’, when seeing a stage play screened on your laptop or tablet. However, through an interesting combination of film and theatre, director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour manages to involve the viewer in an intimate setting, filming in a small studio space, with a thrust stage and minimalist, modern set. Osei-Kuffour implements the cameras cleverly, switching between the three sides of the stage, creating the illusion of different audience members’ viewpoints. As the viewer is further sucked into the events of Alder’s story, as it becomes increasingly more unsettling and harrowing, the camera close-ups and rapidly changing angles help to involve the viewer in Alder’s turbulent experiences.
It is fitting that Typical is a monologue, reflecting the loneliness and outcast status of Alder, and effectively forcing the viewer to see the events from Alder’s point of view, exacerbating the empathy and harrowing shock at the racism he endures. Blackwood creates this character with energetic movements and punchy dialogue, interspersed with comedic singing and dancing – against a soundtrack of ‘90s pop and reggae – as well as caricature multi-rolling; juxtaposing with a moving, visceral performance in the second half. Cameron lulls us into a false sense of security throughout the first half, with light humour and a chatty tone, emphasising the shock and disbelief at the following events, making them seem almost unbelievable.
Cameron says: ‘Typical is a slice of our history, that I hope gives insight, education and desire for a better future’, which I believe he has achieved, the play forcing me to step back and take a look at our British society with fresh, educated eyes, numb from the events portrayed, and even angry and outraged, twenty years on.
Typical is released exclusively on Soho Theatre On Demand from 24 February 2021