COPS at The Southwark Playhouse
Rosey (Daniel Francis) and Stan (Roger Alborough) in Cops: photo Robert Day

It is 1957 Chicago, a time of riots and mob violence.It was also a period where the Chicago Cops were not the most scrupulous of forces and faced pressure from the people and the press. Here at London's Southwark Playhouse, in the intimate space of the Little, we are in the precinct where four cops of different ages, class and race struggle to work together to formulate a plan to find a star witness in an upcoming trial before he is found by the mob.

Cops is the second play by New York playwright Tony Tortora and is directed by Andy Jordan. With Anthony Lamble's effective and considered staging on two levels denoting the grubby interior of the precinct and the stark, cold stakeout location, the scene is set. We meet the team as they interact and play out the tedious routine of their job roles despite the promise of the surveillance programme. Despite their planning they are ultimately more the Keystone Cops than proficient Chicago Cops, failing at every step of the way.

Essentially a play whose focus is more on the inter-relationships of the four cops holed up together in their claustrophobic setting, Cops is character driven and as such relies on the spoken word to create their profiles and back stories. Each of the four depict their past with clarity, leaving no doubt as to their current behaviour. Against the supposed plot of finding the key witness we observe a microcosm reflecting the corruption, racial tensions and unrest that exist outside of the precinct. Allusion is made to the politics of the day, namely Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Sputnik but none are fully developed. 

Action is limited with the play relying more on the script wherein we are presented with nostalgic reflection, disillusion, racial slurs, constant bickering and accusations. Despite the gallant efforts of the cast, the pace remains pedestrian and somewhat tedious, particularly with the raised voices as arguments develop and pitch soars. It was a relief at the end of Act 1 when a splendidly directed fight (D J Johnson) broke out between Rosey, tired of the racial insults, and Fox, the cocky rookie. This was well played and injected energy and distraction from the otherwise tedium.

At two hours plus and in two acts, Cops is a demanding ask of its cast and audience. Praise is offered to the committed performances of Roger Alborough, Daniel Francis, Jack Flamminger and James Sobol Kelly who projected their characters with conviction and mention should be given to Ben Keaton as the fifth cop whose role was less defined.



Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE16BD
Playing until 1 February 2020 
Monday-Saturday 8 pm, Tuesday and Saturday matinees 3.30 pm

Tickets: £22/£18 concessions
Box office: 020 7407 0234  online
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Age recommended: 15+