Reviewed By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Thursday, June 17, 2010.
The SUS laws made it legal for police to stop and search anyone on the grounds of their suspicion that a crime was about to take place. Very often, it is simply a form of harassment of young Black Britons. Now, British Asians are part of the new target, under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The powerful 2001 documentary Injustice which highlighted the deaths in police custody since this play was first written only go to emphasise that this is not some nightmare vision of a bygone past – but an at once prescient and timely study into power and arrogance. And you’re still more likely to get stopped by the police if you’re Black.
Clearly a highly subjective practice based on racist stereotypes; in the 1970s the fallout crossed the spectrum from inconvenience to police brutality and to miscarriages of justice and deaths in custody.
Written in the grey days of the late 1970s, Barrie O’Keefe’s tense and dramatic play was an important contribution to the campaigns against a law which led to the criminalisation of scores of Black youths. So what’s frightening about the Young Vic and Eclipse Theatre’s timely revival is how chillingly authentic O’Keefe’s depiction of the abuse of police powers actually is, and also how relevant.
In the intimate Claire Studios, Chloe Lamford gives us a bare walled set - an uncomfortable observation point into just how random it was to fit up and abuse victims.
With 1970s costume – droopy moustaches and wide lapelled jackets - the elder DC Karn (Simon Armstrong) is almost avuncular, whilst his younger counterpart Wilby (Laurence Spellman), is coiled tight and wound up as they await the results of the 1979 General Election. And with the Metropolitan Police Service at that time unreconstructed by the PR stunts of the MacPherson Report or the Police and Criminal Evidence Act - their canteen culture banter is more teasing than menacing. It’s only the arrival on suspicion of a drunk Delroy (Clint Dyer) that the atmosphere turns from humourous verbal sparring - laced with condescending sneers - to a dangerous, high stakes confrontation.
Clint Dyer’s portrayal is balanced to perfection as Delroy’s initial swagger turns to smouldering anger and resentment as he discovers he’s being set up for more than the usual couple of hours of an inconvenient ritual. Visibly shrinking in the face of harrowing and unpleasant verbal and physical assaults it’s a chilling performance.
Gbolahan Obisesan’s direction enlivens a punchy 120 minute piece and with Sus recently adapted for the big screen, this compelling and necessary performance deftly fuses inside knowledge with the human dramas these encounters must have generated.
By Barrie Keeffe
Young Vic (020 7922 2922; youngvic.org)
until 26 June 2010
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.