Directed by Michael Longhurst, Between Riverside and Crazy is a revival of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by Stephen Adly Gurigis. The play focuses on Walter ‘Pops' Washington (Danny Sapani), an alcoholic, grieving ex-cop, and his case of a racist violent attack within the police force. Walter is shot while off-duty by a white police officer who uses a racial slut before shooting. We land in the play several years after this incident, with Walter being an alcoholic, having a complicated relationship with his son, his wife dead, and his civil suit against the force is dismissed by his former partner, Audrey (Judith Roddy) who thinks the shooting was his fault. 


While this play highlights the serious issue of institutionalized racism and working-class life, particularly in New York, I feel it could have done more. The play can be slow at times, focusing on certain moments and conversations for too long which overshadows other parts of the play. Because there is so much comedy in Between Riverside and Crazy, the serious nature of the topic at hand can often clash with the humour and overpower the main problems the play attempts to address. 


Walter is a very likeable character, and Sapani packs in lots of depth to his background; he was crafted as a clever and funny man. Sapani never failed to keep the audience laughing, even during the latter more serious parts. He was the centre of the play and even in the first scene, he pulled us into the lives of the characters and the world we had entered with his funny comments, his mannerisms, and jokes, as he ate his breakfast with Oswaldo (Sebastian Orozco).


We see the awkward father-son dynamic with Walter and Junior (Martins Imhangbe) but this could have been fleshed out more. It felt like Oswaldo was acting like his son more than Junior, and at first, before we know who he is, he appears to us as the son in the first scene. In many ways, he functioned more in the plot than Junior. The dynamics of the characters together felt strong and fleshed out in other relationships, however, like Walter and Lulu, and with his former detective partner too, Audrey. These performances are what make this drama so funny and lively.


Max Jones' stage design was excellent with constant transitions of new props and furniture being moved around. We are centered often in the kitchen/living room space, or the bedroom, which then later becomes a hospital room, There is a bridge above the stage that offers a scene change for when people are leaving town, allowing for intimate conversations between characters, such as Lulu and Walter, Walter and Junior, and Walter and Church Lady (Ayesha Antoine). Anna Watson, the lighting designer, plays with the darkness and dimming of lights between scene changes to show the actors moving things around the stage and to show a shift in time.


Between Riverside and Crazy does have its faults with its delivery of racism in between the laughter that the actors bring to the audience, but it is very much still a witty, timely play that questions our stance on what is right and wrong. It leaves us wondering, as Pops muses, ‘what a world it would be if what was right is enough'. 


At Hampstead Theatre until 15th June.


Review: Cara Scott  Photo: Johan Persson