Written and set in 1979, SUS by Barrie Keeffe has been described as ‘instant political theatre’, highlighting the injustice of the Stop and Search laws through its unflinching portrayal of black suspect Delroy’s mistreatment by two white policemen. Dilated Theatre’s new production proves that it is equally as relevant today.
Celestine Healy’s design has transformed the black box of The Lion & Unicorn into a sparsely furnished police interview room. The audience enter through the only door and sit facing each other across the traverse playing space; they become at once mute bystanders, judge and jury to the events about to unfold.
A projection plays – news clips, Margaret Thatcher, and then white words on a black screen: ‘The following story is based on true events.’ Words disappear, leaving only the final two, and, having removed their audience from the comfort zone of fiction, Dilated Theatre begin their full throttle attack on the political injustice and gross racism inherent in British society.
From the moment that Karn (Alex Neal) struts into the room like a polyester John Wayne, he has the audience in the palm of his hands, or, perhaps more accurately given his character, by the balls. It’s an uncomfortably brilliant performance, both entertaining and repellent, but one impossible to look away from. For the first section, the other two actors are completely outshone; not ideal in a carefully balanced three-hander.
The strength of the performances, combined with the magnificence of Keeffe’s script and Paul Tomlinson’s precise direction, completely take control of the audience
However, as the play progresses, Wole Sawyerr’s Delroy reveals touching depths in his grief, culminating in an almost unbearably moving recitation of Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’. Similarly, Nason Crone’s Wilby, at first unremarkable and mundane, becomes the author of the worst atrocities in the play; a shocking personification of the truth that you cannot always tell of what horrors someone is capable.
The strength of the performances, combined with the magnificence of Keeffe’s script and Paul Tomlinson’s precise direction, completely take control of the audience; forcing embarrassed laughter at the expertly handled moments of black comedy or inducing gasps of shock with the cataclysmic explosions of violence and spat out racist vitriol. As the play comes to an end, we, like Delroy, are left shell-shocked and angry by the discrimination and bigotry we have witnessed.
The end projections offer some redemption, detailing the 1981 repeal of the SUS laws, before snatching it away as we are told that under our 2000 UK Terrorism Act, black people are still seven times more likely to be stopped. Dilated Theatre has a point to prove, and they make it with a punching force that leaves you reeling. An initial tentativeness and lack of confidence is all that holds SUS back from being a knock out production.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 23rd March