Sus, Young Vic
Imagine, you live in London, its 1979 and it's election night. The Thatcher years are about to commence. You were born in Britain therefore a citizen of this country. You are entitled to the same rights as everyone one else but there is one problem, you are not like everyone else. You may be born in England but unfortunately you are not considered English. You are not 'all English', 'pure stock', you are black and with that comes a great deal of problems. Especially when the 'sus' laws have been introduced and given the police the legal right to stop and search people on suspicion alone. 'But what about my rights?' you ask, well you have none.
Visit the Young Vic Theatre to watch Barry Keefe's 1979 play Sus directed by Gbolohan Obisesan and witness first hand the treatment or more like mistreatment of Leon Delroy played by Clint Dyer. He has been brought into police custody on suspicion of… Well of everything really, name the crime and the police have accused him of it. Why him? Where are the witnesses? The evidence? They do not need it, they have their suspicions and that is enough.
The audience surrounds the stage with the actor's right in the centre and with it being so intimate you have no choice but to be drawn into the story. But while trying to being drawn in D.S Karn pulls out a cigarette. Maybe it's a dummy, for effect, it was a lovely effect until he actually lights it. So now an audience is reduced to a smoky room. On the one hand it compliments all the other powerful theatrical elements of the scene but still slightly distracting I must say.
Barrie Keefe has developed these two racist and abusive police offciers D.S Karn and D.C Wilby played by Simon Armstrong and Laurence Spellman who if I saw walking the street I wouldn't even given them a second look. They did a fabulous job in convincing the audience that they were actually a pair of 'racist pigs' as Leroy put it, who treat the whole integration as a bit of a joke.
Barrie Keeffe hides nothing and exposes everything about the injustice of the 'sus' laws in the 70s and 80s. While doing so he takes his audience back 31 years to a police questioning room where it was deemed appropriate to use these laws as a way to abuse a man, physically, mentally and emotionally. Clint Dyer is so believable in conveying Leroy as such a broken man that by the end that you cannot help but let a tear fall down your face.
As much as this is just a play it is real and has a shock factor when you remind yourself people had to experience such treatment. It ignites feelings of anger, frustration, pain, compassion and tears for an innocent man but not only do you feel sympathy for Leroy but for all those black men during the time of the Thatcher years when those 'sus' laws destroyed the trust and respect for the boys in blue.
Racism at its highest degree, arrogance, abuse of power, and aggression from the people who are supposed to protect us is being displayed in front of our eyes, not discreetly but overtly. This powerful play was originally written 1979 but the worrying thing that comes to mind is have things really changed?
Sus is at the Young Vic until 26 June, 2010.
Box office: 020-7922 2922
Afridiziak Theatre News interview with Gbolahan Obisesan, Sus
Afridiziak Theatre News review of Sus, 2009