Friday, December 9

SUS – Park Theatre

Writer Barrie Keeffe’s social and political drama examines unemployment, institutional racism in the Police and the use of SUS law (suspect under suspicion) which was incorporated into the 1824 Vagrancy Act.  This stop and search section of the act was used extensively, particularly targeting people of colour and it allowed the Police to make the lives of their victims extremely uncomfortable.

SUS is set on the eve of the 1979 election victory by Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives, which ousted James Callaghan’s Labour from office.  The two policemen on duty, Karn (Alexander Neal) and Wilby (Fergal Coghlan) both support the conservative cause, largely due to Thatcher’s support of more stringent laws to support the police in their duties.

Thatcher’s speech ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony…’ hangs in the air as the audience sits as observers to an interrogation.  The play is set at a police station after Leon Delroy (Stedroy Cabey) has been brought into custody on what he assumes to be another ‘SUS’.   Delroy is calm and has no reason to be believe that this is not just another time-wasting exercise by the police.  He has been out with friends at the pub from 7pm until 10pm and was considering going on to a working men’s club afterwards.  Karn is swift to bring up the fact that Delroy has been in work and claims benefits to support his family, he clearly finds this distasteful to think that a man should not work to support his family.  Karn’s manner is continually condescending, and it is clear that he is enjoying making Delroy feel uncomfortable.  By this point Delroy is getting fed up and wants to leave the station, as he gets agitated, the real reason he has been brought in is announced, and the enormity of his situation washes over him. 

Keeffe characterises his policemen as racist and aggressive, Paul Tomlinson’s direction facilitates the full impact of the horror that awaits Delroy with very few props to distract from the enormity of what happens in that interview room.  Coghlan and Neal play the policemen who have seen some action and may feel that they have an axe to grind with someone who they feel sponges off the state and in their eyes, does not even come from Britain.  Cabey as Delroy plays a full range of emotions, and the tears and anger seem to flow naturally in a superb performance.  The whole cast do justice to this difficult performance piece, no doubt aided by the skills of director Tomlinson, who never allows the enormity of the importance of the material, to dissuade him from socking it to the audience.

These circumstances will have been played out in many a police station I am sure, but it acts as a reminder, and a deterrent to never allow these dreadful things to happen again.  This was 1979, let’s ensure that we have moved on.

To book to see SUS at Park Theatre follow this link – https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/sus – the show runs until the 15th October 2022.

Reviewer: Caroline Worswick

Reviewed: 24th September 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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