Monday, 3 October 2022

REVIEW: SUS at Park Theatre 90

Sus has technically been consigned to the history books, but was once synonymous with racial tensions between the police and local communities. It was eventually repealed by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. Sus (derived from 'Suspect Under Suspicion') was the law that permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest a person in breach of the Vagrancy Act 1824. Despite its repeal, there are modern echoes in the stop and search provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A touch of legalese is important to understand why this 1979 play by Barrie Keeffe is still important and relevant today.

Its election night: 3rd May 1979 and Margaret Thatcher is on the threshold of a landslide victory. The police station is in a state of frenzy as DS Karn (Alexander Neal) contemplates a new social landscape. His eager junior officer DC Wilby (Fergal Coghlan) is excitedly relaying updates via the staff canteen. However, they have the distraction of a suspicious death on their patch. Karn and Wilby have made their minds up and pull in luckless underdog Delroy (Stedroy Cabey) for questioning. It's not the first time he's been detained by the police and is unfazed by this latest 'collar'. However, devastating news turns this game of cat and mouse into something more sinister.

Here we have a play that was contemporary when it was written and a period drama in revival. It feels authentically 1970s, from the ill-fitting suits to £1 notes and a wall-mounted dial-faced telephone. It could easily be a scene from the Sweeney or Z Cars but is no less powerful and still packs a punch. The issues raised by SUS are as topical now as they were 40 years ago. The script has a visceral quality undimmed by the passing years. It's a raw portrayal so typical of late playwright Barrie Keeffe who also wrote the Long Good Friday. We see how the odds were stacked against people who lacked the protection eventually given by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There's a tinge of sadness that it is still relevant today but illustrates how little has really changed. It's the sign of a great play that can still resonate through later generations. A quality cast put in a good shift as the plot moves along at a lively pace to a satisfying conclusion.

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Unallocated seating | Price of Ticket: £12/£15
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