“Oh I wouldn’t like to be a n***** in new England”
A play which today will be divisive. While the play is described to be “as relevant today as the day it was first performed “ in 1979, I would like to ask what the point of such staged reckless violence was. On the other hand, I could be persuaded to see the value of theatre as an archive which tells stories without censure. Sometimes there is no point and maybe that’s what’s so horrifying about it all.
The small studio is almost sold out with audiences on either side. The set is sparse. There is a telephone fixed on the wall, on one side of the stage is a table with cigarette butts gathered on one corner. In stroll in two white policeman placing a bet on the election of that momentous day “the thatch” secures her 1979 landslide victory. Intermingled in the banter of this small office in an East London Police station is talk of a recent arrest of a young man who seems far too at ease with the ritualised charade of SUS (today we call this police ploy as stop and search). Tonight, will be different, especially as they teeter on the edge of a new dawn. This play draws that connection between working class white people’s hatred of scroungers and liberals with their hatred of “Yigs, Pakis and Indians”. The next hour and 15 minutes we watch these two white policemen abuse their positions, driven by a sadistic brand of racism that was at many times unbearable to watch.
Standout performance from Stedroy Cabey playing Delroy, the victim of SUS from Trenchtown, with a careful blend of horror and resignation. At the beginning Delroy is brilliant at humouring the police, speaking their language and playing along. Perhaps there is some power in that? But there isn’t 5 minutes that passes in this play where Delroy catches a break. He is patronised, humiliated, bullied, taunted and tormented in a way that has you wondering how the actor Cabey is able to cope. I struggled watching, I could not imagine swapping places and being the object of such an unfolding nightmare delivered by the likes of Alexander Neal whose spitting tirades will haunt you hours after the curtains come down and you’ve left the theatre.
SUS is an accomplished play, decent production values, directed well and entertaining in the sense that it was incredibly engaging. However, there is a moral question that I have to ask on duty of care. What are the ramifications of taking abuse and delivering abuse? Performing it? Is the price worth the performance? A part of me wonders if its success is watching something taboo and, on that track, I found great discomfort being in that predominantly white audience, wondering what the appeal was for them.
By Tasnim Siddiqa Amin
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SUS is currently showing until Saturday 15th October 2022 at the Park Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…