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SUS (Birmingham)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Barrie Keeffe’s hard-hitting exploration of the a true life event concerning a falsely accused black man of his wife’s murder, and his mistreatment by police forces during his questioning, is placed against the rise of Thatcher’s Tory government on the very eve they came into power. Now, some years later, Keefe’s work is presented to us in a time where Conservative government has regained its power and we are asked to consider how far have we come? Would this be able to happen under our current social system? Are these attitudes still present and to what effect do they have on our justice system?

It seems to be the case that the modern justice system is intolerable of the examples of police officers we see in within the narrative, and one would hope an Officer would be unable to perform questioning in the most horrific way the leads in this piece do.

Simon Armstrong inhabits an exceptionally intimidating force in his portrayal of the extreme Conservative Officer Karn. Karn is paired with a disturbingly anal Officer Wilby, played by Laurence Spellman, whom is quietly threatening in his monotonous exchanges and ever staring eyes.

Karn and Wilby subject the innocent character of Delroy to both emotional and physical torture before any official evidence is accumulated against him, he is in fact only held under SUS. Barrie Keeffe uses this violence as a tool to highlight the extremes to which individuals can take the law into their own hands, perhaps due to their own personal prejudices, when the Government or higher power fails to protect the accused. The boundaries of the plays morals also extend into displaying how damaging prejudice can be and also how laws and rules can be used in a shockingly negative way.

As the author points out in his covering notes, whilst SUS (Suspect under Suspicion) may no longer exist to allow questioning with no real merit, laws such as the recent SAS (Stop and Search) are recently being passed. Will these laws give way for the events explained in Keeffe’ examination to happen again? One would hope not, but with laws such as the SAS there is the very real possibility of abuse under extreme circumstance that if left in the hands of the prejudiced; be it racist, sexist, homophobic or many more, events such as those presented in SUS have the possibility of happening once again.

But to what extent can we protect society against the guilty whilst also protecting the accused that may be innocent without laws such as these? It is both challenging and complex to answer, but the narrative of the piece brings these questions to light in a startlingly direct manner.

SUS is a valuable tool in highlighting these points to an audience and leading us to think upon these issues as we head back to a Conservative Government years after the plays original premiere in the 1970s.

- Ben Wooldridge


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