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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Sus, by Barrie Keeffe, premiered in 1979 just over a month after Margaret Thatcher came to power. Set on the eve of that victory, it was revived to coincide with the recent general election, touring to several venues across England before settling here at the Young Vic. The context of this election was very different from that of the play’s setting, yet this production feels remarkably relevant to the present moment. The decision to revive it, and to do so now, was an inspired one.

Sus takes place in a police station in East London. Two detectives, Karn (Simon Armstrong) and the less senior Wilby (Laurence Spellman,) are waiting for the election results to come in, when Delroy (Clint Dyer) is brought in. He has been picked up on ‘sus’, the law that, until it was repealed in 1980, allowed the police to stop and search individuals under suspicion alone. This is not the first time it has happened to him; as a black man on the lower rungs of society, Delroy is a particular target of the police during this period and he is beginning to lose his patience.

What follows, as Delroy, still ignorant of his supposed crime, is interrogated without the least recourse to human decency or justice, is a brilliantly grim examination of a social philosophy that values order over all else.

Chloe Lamford’s design is necessarily spare. The audience sit on four sides of the Young Vic’s petite second space, the interview room and its inhabitants entirely exposed to our gaze. There is nothing to distract from the precision and power of the performances and, such is the intimacy of this production, at moments one is tempted to speak out in response to the cruelty being played out before us.

Dyer is heart-wrenching to watch. While both Armstrong and Spellman offer strikingly effective portrayals of the pitiless detectives, Dyer is a quivering bundle of confusion, rage, pain – both mental and physical – and shock at the treatment Delroy is receiving at the hands of the police. It is an astonishing performance.

Director Gbolohan Obisesan skilfully steers the pacing of the play, allowing the humour of the first section to give way gradually to the astute social and political analysis contained in the appalling encounters that follow. The language and costumes are quite clearly of their time, but rather than make the work feel dated, this fact only emphasises the worrying similarities between that time and this. 


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