At the dawn of a new Thatcherite government that is doing its level best to exclude the immigrants this country so desperately needs, Park Theatre has been prescient in reviving Barrie Keeffe’s 1979 play SUS, under the direction of Paul Tomlinson.
Set on the night that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were first launched into power, the drama is a blistering critique of the small-minded racism and casual police brutality of the 1970s.
When Jamaican-heritage Leon Delroy is wrongly accused of murdering his wife – who has in fact died of an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy – the police officers in charge of questioning him reveal the full panoply of prejudice, bigotry and wilful misunderstanding that led so many innocent people to be detained under the notorious ‘sus’ laws.
Stedroy Cabey is utterly compelling as Leon, who veers suddenly from easy jocularity to heartbreak.
Fergal Coghlan’s violent junior detective Wilby is somewhat stilted, but Alexander Neal offers a subtle portrayal of his colleague Karn, a naff middle-aged man savouring the personal delights of social mobility but with scant regard for the rights or dignity of those he arrests.
The story makes us stop and reflect on what has changed in the intervening 43 years.
Casual racism may be less overt, but Black people in England and Wales are still stopped and searched seven times as often as white people.
Britain may be culturally richer, but a CV with a stereotypically ethnic minority name still attracts only about three-fifths as many job interviews as the exact same CV with an ostensibly white English name.
Tomlinson’s taught 80-minute production retains an edgy intensity throughout, reminding audiences that after nearly half a century, racism is still deeply ingrained in our society and our institutions.
SUS runs until 15 October at Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, N4 3JP.