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Kingston 14 @ Theatre Royal Stratford East

SOLID PERFORMANCE: Brian Bovell (left) and Goldie

DRUG DEALING, corruption, disdain for the political system – and this is all inside the police force.

Insightful and comedic in equal measure, Kingston 14 examines the seedy side of Jamaica’s policing and political systems, offering an alternative portrayal to the island’s more widely known image of sun, sea and sand.

The officers of Denham Police Station in downtown Kingston have cause for celebration after successfully arresting notorious gangster Joker (Goldie). Sinister but often silent, choosing instead to intimidate the officers with laughter or dismissive glares, Joker is held behind bars on suspicion of the murder of a visiting businessman.

In a bid to crack the case, black British officer James (Derek Elroy) is sent over from England and is determined to bring order to what he sees as a backwards and disorganised policing system. His presence only serves to irritate the Jamaican officers, particularly long-serving officer Marcus (Brian Bovell), who tells the ‘English’ cop: “You don’t know dis station and you sure as hell know nutt’n about dis island.”

However, it soon transpires that there is foul play within the force when it appears that Marcus has an unknown connection with Joker – the ruthless bad man seemingly having some sort of hold over the ageing policeman.

Meanwhile, young officers Carl (Charles Venn) and Neil (Ashley Chin) blur the lines between law and lawlessness, combining police work with their sideline operation as street corner drug dealers.

In short, Kingston 14 pretty much makes the Jamaican police system look like a shambles. From police boss Sarge (Trevor Laird) instructing his officers to stay safe by announcing, “mind yourself – nuh dead,” to the revelation that the superintendent (who we never see) spends much of his time in a “t***y bar,” the play doesn’t allow audiences to have much faith in the island’s legal system.

The production also examines how poor local people have more faith in Robin Hood-style gangsters like Joker – who, through criminality, provide for the community – than they do in the government, which is designed to look after the people.

However, a heated exchange between Sarge and James sees the Jamaican police boss reminding the British officer that the Metropolitan Police isn’t without its issues. After announcing to James “we have internet here yuh know bwoy,” Sarge proceeds to remind the British officer about the 2011 UK riots, asking: “Did it not all start coz dem policeman shoot up dat black bwoy [Mark Duggan]?”

But in amongst the observations of violence, corruption and criminality, is an abundance of comedic moments. From a hilarious scene where Neil and Carl celebrate the arrest of Joker by demonstrating their best dancehall-style choreography, to Sarge’s frequent jokes about Bajans, Kingston 14 has many moments of sheer hilarity.

The actors’ grasp of Jamaican accents and vernacular is also hugely impressive.

Once again, playwright Roy Williams – famed for his plays Sucker Punch and Fallout – has his finger on the pulse of reality, this time, Jamaican style. Some audiences may cringe at the scenes of vulgarity and sexual explicitness, and patriotic Jamaicans may not take kindly to the production’s exposure of the island’s political corruption.

But with Kingston 14, the superb writer must be commended for opening the eyes of audiences who might think Jamaica is nothing more than reggae and rum punch.

Kingston 14 continues at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 until April 26. For more information visit www.stratfordeast.com

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