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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Theatre - Young Vic - Sus

Star rating – 9/10

It’s election night in 1979, and two police officers, DS Karn and his junior, DC Wilby, are very excited at the prospect of a Thatcher landslide. This powerful, explosive study of racism in the police force by Barrie Keeffe was also written in 1979, along with his more famous, ‘The Long Good Friday’.

It is so difficult to watch I hesitate to call it entertainment. The action takes place over a single night in a sparse police interview room, as Karn and Wilby pick up a black guy, Delroy, under the notorious Stop and Search (Sus) law. This allowed the police to pick up anyone on suspicion that they might commit a crime, and was notoriously used against black people before it was repealed in 1981. Delroy is unaware that they suspect him of having murdered his wife, he doesn’t even know she is dead as he was too busy getting stoned and drunk in his local pub.

Karn and Wilby proceed to taunt and humiliate Delroy over an excruciating 80 minutes of tense and violent drama. The tiny space of the Clare Theatre at the Young Vic, where the audience are almost in the interview room with the actors, only heightens the sense of horror. The attitudes of the police are shocking, and as the realisation of what has happened hits Delroy, they only serve to taunt and mock him more.

The violence is so real it feels like Clint Dyer, who excels as Delroy, is really having the living daylights beaten out of him in an era long before CCTV and taped interviews. And Simon Armstrong is chillingly convincing as the bigoted racist Karn, who is not painted as a thick copper, but as an educated man who simply chooses to hate black people.

‘Sus’ is not easy watching by any means, but it is powerful, raw, and tragically, still as relevant now as it was in 1979, with our current prevailing attitudes towards terrorist suspects. Well worth catching for a thought provoking night out.

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