Urbain Hayo – interview
Afridiziak had a chance to speak to south London performer and creator of new play Custody, Urbain Hayo. Hayo has created Custody with writer Tom Wainwright (Banksy: the Room in the Elephant) based on the real life experiences of black British families whose relatives have died in police custody as well as his own experiences with the police during their “routine” stop and searches.
Custody is a new theatre project that tells the story of yet another young black man whose life is taken from him at the hands of the police and his family’s struggle for justice. Directed by Gbemi Ikumelo, Custody tackles a highly sensitive subject that affects many people within the Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities.
I wanted to tell more stories about young black people and not just about the streets or being thugs, but about our communities and families.
Urbain told me that the creation of this new play began as he was inspired to give an insight to the public on the treatment of people within the BAME communities by the police. After the London riots, back in 2011, Urbain noticed that there was a lot of negative talk aimed at young black youth from the police and other bodies of authority, but there was minimal talk of engagement and resolution and hardly any conversation with the community where the rage and rioting erupted from in the first place.
Urbain started working as an actor in youth groups in South London and from there his talent and interest in the theatre grew. As a young actor, he noticed that a lot of the work he was involved in was not truthful about the black experience and he felt that he could tell “our stories” in an honest and proactive way that would uplift the BAME communities. He said, “I wanted to tell more stories about young black people and not just about the streets or being thugs, but about our communities and families.”
As a performer, he wanted to use his creative outlets to do a piece on the deteriorating relationship between the police and young black youth. Inspired by Migrant Media’s banned cult documentary films ‘Injustice’ and ‘Who Polices the Police?’ Urbain was moved to draw on the real-life experiences of those who found themselves in the custody of the police and went on to become victims of police brutality. The idea for a new play, Custody, was born.
All of my encounters with the police were always negative regardless of how polite and cooperative I was. To this day I have a full driving licence but I consciously choose not to drive to lower my risk of being stopped by the police.
When I asked Urbain about his own personal experiences with the police he told me: “From the age of 15 I started to get stopped and searched and for me I couldn’t understand why. I was raised to be respectful, I dressed well and spoke eloquently but regardless of my background and demeanour the police didn’t see a well raised young man they just saw a black boy and threw all their prejudices at me. All of my encounters with the police were always negative regardless of how polite and cooperative I was. To this day I have a full driving licence but I consciously choose not to drive to lower my risk of being stopped by the police.”
Through his research for the play, Urbain met many families across the UK who had lost male relatives and friends to the police. Many of these families had never got answers on what happened once their sons, brothers, partners, and friends were taken into custody and were never seen alive again. One of the running themes from all of his conversations with these families was the lack of answers from the police and justice system on how these young black men had died and the events that led to their untimely deaths.
When I asked Urbain what inspired him to tackle such a heavy subject through his art he told me, “I create plays to incite social and political change. Through my research I met so many families who are not getting justice to this day. I feel that it is my duty to tell people what is really going on and through my work I hope to engage all audiences from every background – that is why it was important to have Tom (Wainwright) be a part of this project. He is a white man and I wanted him to work with me in the writing not only make things more relatable but also to engage a white audience who are probable totally oblivious to what is going on outside of their community even though it is affecting all of us as a society.”
After many high profile cases from the US where black men and boys were shot and killed by the police, (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice) police brutality on young black men is a well-known issue in the US, but it is also a relevant issue in the UK.
Urbain explained “I want to show the world that police brutality against the black community is not only an American issue also has a long history in the UK. There are a lot of disturbing events that take place when a young black man is arrested and I wanted to use this play as a platform to raise awareness of the truth. It was a sad process making this project hearing all of the victims’ stories, but I believe it is so worth it as the truth needs to be told.”
Info: Custody, created by Urbain Hayo and written by Tom Wainwright will run at Ovalhouse Theatre 52-54 Kennington Oval, London, SE11 5SW / Date: 28 March to 8 April 2017 / Book tickets / Ages 14 + / Twitter #WhoIsBrian @CustodyPlay, @Ovalhouse
SPECIAL OFFER: Get 2-4-1 tickets to see Custody on Thurs 30, Fri 31 March, & Sat 1 April 7.30pm | Enter code AFRIDIZIAK when booking or call the box office on 020 7582 7680