Sherlock is to London as Chicago is to the mobster and American police precinct. Think Al Capone, John Dillinger and endless film and TV series exposing a criminal underworld pitted against an equally corrupt police force. Tony Totora’s Cops invites audiences into the Windy City where five detectives are kicking up a storm of their own, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor. 

With Chicago’s streets still hungover from the Race Riot of 1919, this play set in 1957 exposes a bitter taste spilling over into the cop-shop where black detective Rosey, Roosevelt Washington,(Daniel Francis) faces daily racism from colleague Harry Stanton, (Roger Alborough). Harry’s desk spills over with old case files, coffee cups and doughnuts, prompting audiences to investigate clues to a cop unprepared for changes to policing – thus questioning who the real criminals are. 

Changes arrive in the form of young detective Foxy’s (Jack Flammiger) entrance onto the scene. Foxy embodies the liberal changes shaping music and sex in 50s’ America, expressed through his random bursts of Elvis renditions. This new pup on the block is full of youth, swagger and arrogance, making him a volatile addition to the team. A product of a corrupt upbringing, his cynicism develops into full blown contempt for immigrants, leading him to bully and deride his Irish colleague with constant cries of: “Top of the morning to ya”, whilst barking orders. Thankfully we’re able to see this skewed hierarchy challenged by Rosey threatening Foxy with: “Stick around and I’ll wipe that smile off your face”. 

Diverse characters heighten the play’s tension, whether sifting through clues, staking out mobsters or deliberating life, these detectives are hellbent on squaring up to each other. Providing a boxing ring for their brutal slanging matches is the detectives’ office, a set arranged so authentically, you half expect Sam Spade to walk through the iconic glass-panelled door. Believability increases as detective Hurley, (Ken Keaton) casts a classic film noir shadow of the trilby wearing detective onto a wall, immersing audiences further into detective stakeouts. 

Razor sharp dialogue and convincing characters – a good night out. 

Cops is on at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD until 1st February. Times: Monday – Saturday at 8pm; Tuesday & Saturday matinees at 3.30pm. Admission: £22, £18. Phone:020 7407 0234

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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Photos: Robert Day