Stand By

There’s a real sense of excitement in the run-up to Stand By, not least thanks to the slightly-unusual venue—inside an Army Reserve Centre in the north of the New Town. Serving soldiers act as ushers, issuing us with the same single-earpiece headphones worn by police officers on duty. With the rhythmic pre-show music keeping the energy up, there’s a real sense of things all about to kick off.

A powerful, insightful drama with much to say and a bold, blackly comic way of saying it.

Except, Stand By is quite an appropriate choice of title; this show is focused on four police officers stuck in their van, waiting to be called in to support a police negotiator in a nearby block of flats who’s trying to deal with a hostage situation. When the action finally happens, it’s off-stage—suggested only by sounds, lights and the buzz of half-discernible radio messages in our ears. What we witness here are the sides of police work than don’t usually get shown. The waiting. The boredom. The personal doubts and annoyances. The all-too-real consequences.

Natasha Jenkins’ set, a metal-framed abstract of a police van, is almost certainly larger than the real thing, and opened out even further early in the course of the play. However, although director Joe Douglas chooses not to realistically recreate the enforced physical intimacy between the four characters, the emotional consequence of them living in each other’s pockets are in full focus—from the not-so-gentle ribbing about who’s on tea-making duty, and the proper etiquette for buying cakes for everyone on your birthday, to not discussing the strain of the job on family.

Writer Adam McNamara, who also plays lead officer Chris (aka ‘GI’), is a former Police Officer himself, so there’s a real sense of authenticity in both the situation, the characters, and the under-resourced reality of life in Police Scotland. Admittedly the language, although hardly pre-Watershed, has probably still been toned down for theatrical ears. McNamara is ably supported by Andy Clark as experienced officer Davey (aka ‘Sparkles’), Jamie Marie Leary as Rachel (aka ‘Morticia’) and Laurie Scott as former Met-officer Marty (aka, ‘McFly’). Their characters are strongly defined, but not without surprising details only revealed in extremis.

As writer, McNamara is not above having his characters mock TV and film police dramas on the grounds of their dramatic cliches and lack of realism, but he’s arguably also guilty himself: a budding relationship between two of the characters doesn’t sit easily, but the seeming inevitability of its likely ending is frankly disappointing. Nevertheless, this is still a powerful, insightful drama with much to say and a bold, blackly comic way of saying it. 

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Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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The Blurb

Four police officers sit in a riot van. Called out to a domestic dispute which may turn violent, they are on standby; waiting to enter a flat where a man is wielding a samurai sword. We wait with them, experiencing the relationships forged through the stress of the job and the turmoil of being caught between following orders and protecting themselves. Written by a former police officer, Stand By lays bare the modern day police service. Uniquely, audiences are asked to wear single-earpiece headphones, as police officers do, to tell this urgent story in a multi-sensory way.

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