Stuart King

Review: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY at Hampstead Theatre

Walter Pops Washington, a stubborn and self-righteous former police officer, refuses to settle his claim for compensation, believing that he was the targeted victim of a bar shooting carried out by a rookie white cop, based solely on the colour of his skin. Since the incident, his wife has passed and those who remain and move in his small circle, including his son Junior and various hangers-on,have long since begun to fragment.

Between Riverside and Crazy company at Hampstead Theatre. Photo credit Johan PerssonBetween Riverside and Crazy company at Hampstead Theatre. Photo credit Johan Persson

In Stephen Adly Guirgis’s sharply penned play directed for Hampstead by Michael Longhurst, most of the action takes place in the rent-controlled riverside apartment in which Walter has resided since the late 1970s. The landlords know they could get 10 times the rent he pays, if only they could find a way of removing him — which is where his outstanding lawsuit against city hall takes on a new significance, as explained by his former patrol partner Detective Audrey O’Connor and her new fiancé the plain-speaking and persuasive Lt Dave Caro who is clearly ambitious and knows that climbing city hall’s ladder could depend significantly upon whether he can succeed in convincing Walter to settle his compensation case.

As Walter’s responses to settlement offers become more and more entrenched, the lives of the other characters who move in his firmament take on added meaning. Junior’s Hispanic girlfriend Lulu may or may not be pregnant. She also, may or may not be a prostitute and/or studying to be an accountant (although the latter seems unlikely given that she moves her mouth when reading the horoscope). Whatever the truth, in her need to be loved, she has an infuriating way of twisting Junior’s words and perhaps more exasperatingly, exhibits a headstrong determination to get out of walking the dog. Oswaldo, a former drug addict with father issues, continues to stay as Walter’s non-paying guest (perhaps to ensure he never acquires any legal rights to remain) but a violent incident irrevocably changes that specific household dynamic. Perhaps the most notable character to cause an unexpected seismic shift in proceedings, is a visiting churchwoman whose knowingly combative ministrations to Walter, turn from mocking stand-off, to a highly amusing and sexualised intensity of literally spiritual proportions. It’s reflective of a New York energy in the writing, which when coupled with the characters’ general cynicism results in a powerful and thoroughly engaging production.

Helmed by Danny Sapani as Walter, the cast are universally strong in their individual contributions as follows: Ayesha Antoine (Church Lady), Tiffany Gray (Lulu), Martins Inhangbe (Junior), Daniel Lapaine (Lieutenant Dave Caro), Sebastian Orozco (Oswaldo), Judith Roddy (Detective Audrey O’Connor).