“There’s no denying racism in all forms is still very much prevalent in the UK”: Stedroy Cabey on SUS at Park Theatre
43 years since its inception, the themes explored in the late Barrie Keeffe’s SUS remain very prevalent today. Whether it’s issues of racism, Conservative leadership, brutal police interrogations or issues within the criminal justice system, these are things that continue to surround everyday life in the UK. Keeffe’s work has helped in repealing the Sus Law, which is a significant step in the right direction – but there’s still plenty of work left to be done. This is why SUS is still performed worldwide, with another run at London’s Park Theatre between 21st September and 11th October this year.
Long-time friend of Keeffe and previous director of SUS, Paul Tomlinson, returns to celebrate his 40 years of friendship with the playwright and once again direct the play. British-Montserratian actor Stedroy Cabey stars as the main character Delroy – a black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit and who is subjected to interrogation brutality. Alongside Alexander Neal and Fergal Coghlan, Cabey leads the portrayal of this gut-wrenching and heartbreaking story, set against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory. The Upcoming caught up with Cabey to discuss his audition, dismissal of racism within the UK and his upcoming theatrical film debut.
What was the audition process like for SUS and what about it drew you to want to be part of its story?
The audition process was pretty all right. I had to do a self-tape of two scenes from the play, and also had to tell them a little bit about myself and what made me want to do the project. Then I had a recall with the team where I had to do an additional scene with the other two I self-taped. They gave me direction, I took it on board, gave it my all and booked it, which I’m very grateful for. In terms of what drew me in, I was just instantly drawn to the story and had the most emotionally charged experience after first reading it. I never had that before. I felt the truth, weight and power of the piece and knew as an artist I wanted the opportunity to tell it.
Paul Tomlinson returns to direct this play to celebrate his 40 years of friendship with Barrie Keeffe. Did you have any long conversations with Tomlinson in terms of achieving the vision Keeffe may have had for this story?
Paul is so lovely – he’s a wonderful director with great wit but is also serious about the work. He’s also very reassuring which really helps. In terms of conversations: it’s really an ongoing one. He speaks very highly of Barrie and having directed SUS before when Barrie was alive, he knows what he’s doing and senses that. I feel like I’m in safe hands as he helps me find the truth in each line which is super helpful. It’s a privilege to have him.
Why do you think this play in particular is still continually performed worldwide even until now, long after its contribution to repeal the Sus law?
When I first read it, it really did make me sad that it’s still relevant. The very things Delroy dealt with – as a black man in the 60s/70s – we still deal with today and that’s heartbreaking. That’s why SUS is still performed and still needs to be performed in my opinion.
There’s often this dismissal or defence when it comes to discussing racism within the UK – especially online when horrifying news of institutionalised racism and violence occur in the US – that the UK is more progressive when it comes to issues like these. What do you think of this sentiment?
Racism in the UK isn’t as overt as it is in the US so there has been a misconception that it’s not “as bad” here. It’s very much ingrained in the system which almost makes it worse – like hidden poison. We may not have police shooting black men as much as the US, but the biases are very much the same. Studies show young black men are 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched than the general population and black people account for just about 2% of the population. Thankfully, social media has been exposing some of the police brutality being experienced by black men and women in the UK and that’s now opened the eyes of many. And please, don’t get me wrong, not all police are bad and not all white people are racist. But there’s no denying racism in all forms is still very much prevalent in the UK.
There’s also a psychological element that has been witnessed in real life where those accused of a crime, despite not committing it, start to believe that they did because of the brutal and relentless interrogation process. Did you look into any cases of this when preparing for your role?
It’s very sad that one doesn’t have to look very far to find cases like this. Isn’t that just awful?! But yes, I’ve watched a few things – When They See Us and Trial 4 which are both true stories, and other documentaries – as research. I also know friends and family who have endured police harassment. Speaking to them gave me some useful insight.
How else did you mentally and physically prepare yourself for all the awful things your character has to go through within the play?
Barrie Keefe has written such a moving piece that the words on the page really help me. If you have a heart, there’s no way you can read Delroy’s story and not be impacted. That coupled with my own research and training allow me to get to the mental and physical realms of Delroy’s encounter.
Set against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory, and performing this play in the middle of transitioning to a new Prime Minister from the Conservative party, do you think the UK has actually changed much since 1979?
Isn’t that crazy?! Well, from what I’ve seen and read, yes there are some changes and steps in the right direction but there is far more work to do. The fact that SUS is still so relevant in 2022 – 43 years later! – is appalling. God help us.
You’ve recently just finished filming your first feature film. How was that, and is there anything you can tell us about that particular project?
Yes, I have! It was a great experience in more ways than one. I can say it was intense and challenging at times but I worked with some wonderful artists that really made the experience enjoyable. I can say it’s a psychological thriller about nine friends trying to come to terms with their issues. It touches on grief, betrayal and the acceptance of truth. I can’t say much more than that – just look out for it! Hopefully next year.
Is there a big difference in acting for a feature film versus acting on stage, and was the transition back to stage difficult after the strenuous filming schedule?
Funnily enough, I was having this conversation with one of my SUS castmates at today’s rehearsal. There is a big difference in terms of technique and approach but the fundamentals are the same. With stage, you just tend to get a longer rehearsal period and you discover new things with the character each night. With the screen, you have to come ready and prepared to go once there’s “action”! However, with the screen, you get to retake if you mess up, whereas on stage, your retake is the next show. So you either sink or swim on that stage. There are a lot more differences but too many to go into. The transition, however, wasn’t difficult because I’m stage-trained so it’s almost just there in my muscles. Also, the film I just shot had some very theatrical elements so it felt like a stage play at times, just with a camera in your face.
After SUS, what else is next for Stedroy Cabey, and where should we expect to see you?
Higher heights, deeper depths in the world of TV, film and theatre. I really want to use my platform to help in a positive way. Especially in my home country, Montserrat. At the moment, I’m in early talks for another indie movie, but we’ll see. I also hope to be on your TV screens in the upcoming year! Apart from that, I fully believe with all my heart the big man upstairs has some mind-blowing projects lined up, I just don’t know about them yet. I will need a week off first though!
SUS is at Park Theatre from 21st September until 15th October 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.