The popular chant from Elland Road Kop in the late 1960s – “The river Aire is chilly and deep, Olu-wa-le; Never trust the Leeds police, Olu-wa-a-le” – doesn’t actually feature in The Hounding of David Oluwale, Oladipo Agboluaje’s adaptation of Kester Aspden’s harrowing book.
But it was sung to constables on the terraces at the time of the Scotland Yard investigation into the systematic hounding of the eponymous Nigerian immigrant. A stone’s throw from West Yorkshire Playhouse stands Millgarth Police Station, where arrest sheets describe his nationality simply as “wog”, and where Oluwale was locked up, beaten up and cruelly sent up.
Dawn Walton’s vivid production for Eclipse Theatre spares us the sight of Sergeant Kitching and Inspector Ellerker urinating on the vagrant or setting fire to the papers he slept under.
But that in no way lessens the shocking impact of his death by drowning – whether Oluwale was pushed by the policemen or, in desperation, jumped – in the river near the city-centre doorways he called home. That city was also desperate to present a shiny new image to the world, and a tramp didn’t fit into that image. So much for Oluwale’s belief in the benevolent, civilising nature of England.
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