SUS, the title of the play refers to the term ‘Suspect Under Suspicion’…
SUS is a controlled, gripping piece about the destructive nature of institutional racism and police violence. The year is 1979, and we are reminded of the time and place constantly in Barrie Keeffe’s script, with the exact date being the year when Margaret Thatcher came into office. We watch the events of the play arise knowing that, while it is awful now, it will invariably become significantly worse in the years to come.
Police officers Karn (Alexander Neal) and Wilby (Fergal Coghlan) bring Delroy, a young Black father, (Stedroy Cabey) in for questioning. The dialogue is initially humorous, with an undercurrent of tension. We know why Delroy has been brought in, but he thinks it is simply under ‘SUS’. The officers toy with him for a while, evoking the good-cop-bad-cop dynamic with the straightlaced Wilby following the commands of his mocking superior Karn. Delroy has dealt with situations like this before, and he plays along with the officers until he finally becomes bored and irritated at the casual racism flung around the room. He tries to leave, but he is halted. It seems, Delroy has not been brought in under SUS after all but is a suspect in the murder of his wife and unborn child. We find out, there is no good cop in this situation, both are equally corrupt in their roles as violent instruments of the systemically racist carceral system.
The room becomes immediately claustrophobic. With the intimate nature of the Park90 space, one feels as helplessly trapped as Delroy is while in the audience. The design (by Lee Newby) is straightforward, with a desk and two chairs, but the antagonistic placement of the officer’s chair behind the desk reminds us of who holds the power. The acting of the officers is deeply disturbing, with their callous nature inspiring both rage and helplessness as they try to force Delroy into a confession. Neal’s unpredictable shifts in particular kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering when next his bigoted outburst would erupt. Cabey demonstrates his acting ability in the range of emotions he goes through during the duration of the play: jovial, grief-stricken, rageful, and then finally, vengeful.
The end provides a hollow victory when Delroy is released without charge. Keeffe, writing this play in 1979, passed away in 2019, before this revival. With the 2020 worldwide Black Lives Matter movement targeted toward ending police brutality, it is clear that, forty years later, this play is as relevant as ever. Director Paul Tomlinson, a friend and long-time collaborator of Keeffe, is aware of this, stating that the ‘actions’ such as those of Karn and Wilby, ‘need to be exposed’. Time and time again we hear that stories of Black pain and suffering are required for visibility, that this is the path for change, but as I looked out to the majority white theatregoers alongside me, I cannot help but question who exactly this display is for.
SUS runs until Saturday 15th October @Park Theatre. Book tickets here.