Stand By is a brilliant concept. Set in the back of a Police riot van, four officers are waiting to intervene if a domestic incident spirals out of control. Sitting in the audience, we’re wearing single earpiece headphones so can hear both the actors’ dialogue and their interactions with other Police officers, sometimes in a group communication and sometimes, one on one. It’s a smart idea that enhances a polished production.
Designer Natasha Jenkins has done a lovely job with the set. Defined by blue neon strip lights, we start in the compact back of the van which unpacks and expands as the officers wait for the instruction to intervene. There are some really nicely choreographed movement sequences, something of a signature for director Joe Douglas, that do a great job of depicting the officers’ teamwork.
And the acting is great. Writer Adam McNamara also features on stage as Chris, the tough but struggling leader of the pack. Andy Clark brings a sardonic wit and a world-weary resignation to Davey whose own struggle with life seethes just underneath the surface. Marty (Laurie Scott) has a bouncy energy and exuberance that would be infectious if he wasn’t so disinterested in his job. And Jamie Marie Leary is a voice of sense and compassion amidst the testosterone.
This is a funny script. A lot of the action in the play is inaction – waiting for the ok to intervene. Given that McNamara used to be a Police Officer himself, maybe the idle, time-wasting, vaguely racist, vaguely misogynistic banter in the back of the van isn’t a million miles from the way that some officers speak. But it also left me feeling uneasy – are Police officers really so politically incorrect? Of course they won’t all be.
There’s a lot of swearing in this show – and swearing on a spectrum from the relatively polite through to the very punchy. It didn’t ever feel gratuitous but there is (for this non-uniformed reviewer) something disconcerting about seeing a pack of Police officers swearing like sailors and the audience lapped it up.
Overall, this play casts an interesting light on a life in uniform. The production is slick and the actors all give strong performances. But the script often lumbers into clichés, it’s tricky to feel much sympathy for any of the characters and hearing the climactic scene via our earpieces makes it harder for the play to deliver the emotional depth it needs to make us care. McNamara makes a decent fist of demonstrating that being a Police officer is a tough gig but he’s not so complimentary when he depicts their lives outside their work.