In a small, featureless room in a London police station Detective Karn (Alexander Neal) and junior Detective Willby (Fergal Coghlan) are waiting for Delroy (Stedroy Cabey) to be brought in. It is election night 1979: Margaret Thatcher, or ‘The Thatch’ as she is adoringly referred to by the detectives, is about to become Prime Minister. As a young black man, Delroy believes that he has, again, been picked up under SUS or ‘suspect under suspicion’ legislation. These days it is called ‘Stop and Search’.
There is a lot of loaded comedy in the first act and Delroy is playing along. He figures he has no choice but to tolerate the detectives’ jokes and seemingly jovial manner – to wait for them to get bored and just let him go. He has been here before. He tells the detectives that “the police like to talk to me more than I like to talk to them”. Delroy knows how it goes; at least he knows how it normally goes but… not this time.
Delroy has not been brought in under SUS but because the detectives believe he killed his wife earlier that evening. At this point, Delroy does not even know she is dead. The detectives are inhumane, displaying not a solitary care for anything about the man sat opposite them, even as they tell them his wife and unborn child have died.
Cabey is excellent as Delroy and is given a wide range, moving through comedy, grief and rage. Coghlan, as the younger detective, perhaps hints at the start that he is going along with things under the influence of his older, more experienced colleague, but we are soon shown that he is cut from the same cloth. Neal is tremendous, particularly in the moments when he lets go of Karn’s facade and we see the unconstrained rage and racist hatred swirling just below the surface. It is grippingly intense.
The set may be small and featureless but it looks and feels right. Lee Newby’s design, combined with his costumes of suits straight from the era, helps set us straightaway in a time and place, and even an atmosphere. The room becomes a battlefield as the detectives lay into Delroy, waiting for him to confess, attacking him over and over again, verbally and then inevitably physically. To quickly highlight the fight work, Cabey and Coghlan are note-perfect here: within the intimate space of Park90 this looked real.
The section about the news presenters Angela Rippon and Anna Ford goes on too long. I understand that it is used to further show the misogyny and sleaze of the police and the authorities. but it feels very much of its time. Isn’t that horrible though? It is 2022 and when writing a review about SUS, I believe that this particular piece of misogyny feels dated whilst I can’t say that the unjustifiable picking up of a young black man also does. That I can’t say that the racism of specific police policies is a thing of the past makes this play powerful, and it unfortunately remains entirely relevant.
SUS is unsurprising, each beat happens exactly as and when the audience expects it to and there is a huge, awful, power in this. SUS is a scream of rage, as relevant now as it was when it was written in 1979. This revival is excellent. Sadly, I imagine there will be further revivals of regrettably equal relevance in the years ahead.
Written By Barrie Keeffe
Directed By Paul Tomlinson
Set & Costume Design By Lee Newby
SUS plays at Park Theatre until 15 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.