SUS: Barrie Keefe
Birmingham Rep till May 29, touring
Runs: 85 minutes, no interval
Review: Rod Dungate, Birmingham Rep, 25 May 2010
Strong and shocking as ever.
The is a powerful and beautifully performed production from eclipse, and a production of a play that sets up complex reactions.
SUS was written in 1979; it’s set on the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s arrival in Downing Street and was written shortly after that event. In strong, robust dialogue it investigates the awful treatment a youngish black man receives when held in a police station ‘on sus’ – his wife has been found dead in suspicious circumstances in their flat.
The entire action takes place in the interview room and has a gripping intensity. Simon Armstrong and Laurence Spellman give marvellous performances as plain clothes police officers Karn and Wilby. Spellman is distanced, cool or cold but his outbursts of physical violence are all the more frightening. Armstrong is perfectly in period, carrying his age and anger, carrying his job, with ease; his passionate defence of Britain is wholehearted and convincing – which makes its basis in racism all the more shocking.
Clint Dyer plays Delroy – this is an astonishing and deeply moving performance; from his slightly drunken appearance, to his descent into the police-driven hell he has you gasping, your heart beating faster . . . to say nothing of your blood pressure rising. It’s the little things that grab you – like is constant referring to Karn as ‘Sir’.
This is a human story – and as such will always be powerful. But why else does it stand up so well today? It is facile, I think, to say: ‘It shows nothing has really changed.’ Much has changed for the better, although none of us would say we have a perfect system.
In these days when there are threats to human rights and equality legislation, we must be reminded from where we have travelled. SUS shows us, powerfully, the overt racism – we must be shocked, we must ensure such abuses never return. There’s a line that sails out from the performance: ‘You see, what this country needs is a strong government.‘ I immediately heard David Cameron’s mantra: ‘What we need is strong and stable government. ‘
But there’s something else, too . . . Barrie Keefe was writing at a time of tough, brick-throwing political theatre writing; in our present times, our theatre writing has become tick-box collecting and merely politically correct.
SUS makes you want to leave the theatre and join the fight for a better world. That’s why it’s powerful.
Karn: Simon Armstrong
Delroy: Clint Dyer
Wilby: Laurence Spellman
Direction: Gbolohan Obisesan
Set: Chloe Lamford
Light: Anna Watson
Sound: Donato Wharton
Casting: Amy Ball
Fight Director: Alison Deburg
Full tour details can be found on Timothy Ramsden’s review of this production in Leicester.