Seventies psychological and political drama Sus – written by Barrie Keeffe, of Long Good Friday fame – is made all the more chilling by its declaration that it is based on a true story. Not now, not even then, surely this kind of thing couldn’t really happen to real people… could it?
Set against the backdrop of the 1979 general election, the coppers down the station excitedly await the heralding in of a “new dawn” and the government of their “beloved Thatch”. There’s just one confession to draw before they can go home…
Nolan Frederick was Delroy, an unemployed black man regularly hauled down the station under the ‘sus law’, and expecting more of the same when he ends up sat in front of hard-faced detectives Karn (Alan Stocks) and Wilby (Nigel Peever). Their Pinter-meets-The-Sweeney double act builds unbearable tension, starting with small talk and friendly chat before the realisation dawns Delroy is being accused of something much more serious.
The flippancy, lack of concern (and not to mention, casual racism) with which the detectives go about their business is genuinely shocking – no care for “‘uman rights” on their watch. Whether the procedures a citizen would naturally expect in that situation were completely ignored in reality or heightened for drama – the careless throwing about of evidence to break down the suspect, the interrogation of serious crime without a lawyer to oversee or stand for the accused – is a bit of a sticking point. But, getting reeled in by a good story, therein lies the terror; it’s barbaric, it’s inhumane, it could happen to anyone – and the stop-and-search sus law did, to black men across the country.
At the heart of the play is Frederick’s Delroy – a portrait so layered you’d be likely never hear No Woman No Cry again without thinking of it in a new light; Stocks and Peever may rock impressive 70s-era facial hair and loud kipper ties, but their performances are subtle enough to avoid any London cop show ‘you fackin’ muppet’ type
parody. Language is choice, but not gratuitous.
“The fact is, the world’s in a state of chassis,” states Kahn at one point. How strange that line should come straight from Juno and the Paycock, still on at the Playhouse now.
Yet on the flip side, the stark surrounds of the Black-E proved a perfect backdrop for this political tale, which helped to attract a different kind of audience from the usual theatre-going crowd, while support from the Arts Council, Metal at Edge Hill, and the gang at the Everyman, gave the company – director Ed Barrett’s Enthusiastic Theatre Company – the credentials.
Absorbing enough to run for 90 minutes straight through, Sus was a powerful political work that, although certainly of it’s time, could draw plenty of parallels with modern day.