Richard Blackwood: I vowed I would never do it again

Richard Blackwood never wanted to reprise his role in Typical, about a black man who died in police custody. He explains to Laura Harding why he did.

Laura Harding
Monday 22 February 2021 14:00 GMT
Richard Blackwood
Richard Blackwood

Richard Blackwood had never wanted to reprise his latest role. He was relieved when he came to the end of the run of the play Typical in 2019, which tells the true story of former paratrooper Christopher Alder, 37, who choked to death while handcuffed and lying on the floor of a police station in Hull in 1998.

But then the coronavirus pandemic happened, and the 48-year-old TV star was asked to film the play on stage at the Soho Theatre, so people could watch it at home. “I actually vowed that I would never do it again, because it was so difficult, and so draining,” Blackwood admits as he chats after a long day of filming Hollyoaks, the soap he joined in 2020. “At that time I had been doing it day in and day out for just under two-and-a-half months, sometimes two performances a day, so I was like, ‘I’m not doing this again.’

“But then they came back and said, ‘We have been asked to film it’ and asked me how I felt. And I said I do believe I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t bring it to the masses. I thought, ‘This is the last time I’m doing it so it’s got to be the best, I owe it to the piece just to give it that final push’.”

The inquest jury into Mr Alder’s death returned a verdict of unlawful killing and in 2002 five police officers went on trial. But all the officers were acquitted on the orders of the judge during the proceedings.

Blackwood filmed Typical in the summer of 2020 as protests erupted around the world following the death of George Floyd who was black, under the knee of a white police officer. “I remember when it happened,” Blackwood says of Mr Alder’s death. “I’m 49 this year, I was an adult when it happened. It’s not like I was too young to understand what was going on. But also I was of the age where I remember being a teenager and being scared of the police because of knowing that could easily happen to you, being taken in.

“What you would hear is that person died of a mild heart attack. That was always the excuse that you heard when you heard that someone had passed away in custody. We as the black community understood fully what that meant.

“As a teenager at that time in the Eighties and early Nineties, it wasn’t necessarily that you had to be worried about other gangs or other guys out there that could cause trouble, that was never really the issue. It was always the whole concept of being taken by the police; that was always the scary thing.”

Mr Alder’s sister came to see the final show of the run when Blackwood was performing it in the theatre, and the actor was terrified about doing her brother justice. “I never got to meet the man, and I had to play the scene where he died,” he remembers. “Nobody wants to see that re-enacted, as painful as it is knowing it happened. That performance was by far the hardest. I could do the play in my sleep but I felt so on my toes. When I finished and she came up to me and hugged me and she said ‘My brother would have been so proud.’ When everybody else was congratulating me, I didn’t hear anybody else, that is all I needed to hear. She said ‘You embodied him, that’s what he was like.’ I had never met the man, no video footage of him, there was nothing, so that was the biggest reward.”

He now believes the audience watching the film at home will see it differently following the widespread horror and subsequent protests over the death of Mr Floyd, as well as other unarmed black people including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. “I think they will be more receptive. I think that what this play will do is just bring it home. You think about a situation like this and you place it in a certain time period. You say ‘Yeah that happened back then in the Seventies or the Eighties, obviously that doesn’t happen now’.

“Then you see a piece and that was 1998, just before the millennium, that just goes to show that this is practically brand new. Anybody that is my age will think it was just yesterday that this happened.

“The sad reality is that it happens a lot and a lot of it is just not documented. And now you know that. Now, when you start to hear unfortunate situations like George Floyd, even if it still doesn’t affect you, it will resonate with you in some kind of way. We want you to feel something and that is really all it is. That is how the change comes. I hope people understand this is happening amongst them, and not to turn a blind eye to it, because you can’t un-know something.

“It’s about planting the seed. I’m not expecting people to go out and march and expecting a revolution or anything like that, but sometimes it’s just good to plant a seed.”


Blackwood is hopeful that the legacy of the outrage of last summer will lead to lasting change. “People knew police were killing people in the black community in America, but when you saw George Floyd it became very real. We watched that, it was nine minutes of ‘Oh my god am I watching this person die? Have I just witnessed somebody die who was begging for their life?’

“And that is when everything shifted, you can’t pretend you never saw that.”

Typical will be available from February 24 on Soho Theatre On Demand.

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