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A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
--The Original Review by Lizzie Loveridge
With a tiny cast and a simple set Brook conjures up a graphic picture of life in the South African township of Sophiatown under the apartheid regime in the mid 1950s. We see people living at close quarters, with little or no privacy, where workers queue for the bus, where they strap hang on the way to work and to the shebeens, the bars where they spend their leisure time drinking and gossiping. Brook gets special performances from his actors taking on several parts so that a cast of four create the impression of a bustling and crowded township.
The tale is of Philomen (Hubert Koundé) and his wife Matilda (Tanya Moodie). Introduced by an old man, the tall, lanky, grey bearded Maphikele (Sorigui Kouyaté), the scene is set with his description of Sophiatown. One day at work, Philemon hears that his wife is having an affair, so he hurries home in the middle of the day and catches her in flagrante. Her lover, (Cyril Guei) escapes out of the window but leaves, beautifully arranged on a chair, his suit and tie. Philemon then devises a bizarre punishment for his errant wife. He orders Mathilda to treat the suit as an honoured guest, serving it dinner, conversing with it and taking it out for walks. With this constant reminder of her adultery and her husband's lack of forgiveness, Matilda eventually dies of remorse and humiliation. Philemon regrets his actions but it is too late to save his dead wife. The story has an almost Chaucerian simplicity, a moral tale where the wonged becomes the wrongdoer.
This production is in French but with surtitles which distract your eye from the action. I found that I was able to follow most of the beautifully spoken language, even with my rather rusty French, and the mime element of the acting is of great assistance.
I especially liked Tanya Moodie's tender performance as the wife who longs to be a nightclub singer. In one poignantly humorous scene she dances with the suit and one of her arms bringing it to life as it embraces her. In another as prepares for a walk in the park, she dusts down the suit and turns the hook of the hanger to face front. It is all the more poignant when she dies because of her brave acceptance of her punishment.
This whole production is a celebration of the small, of what is possible on a tiny budget. Its many great moments include two men, donning different hats, to become a whole roomful of party guests. They enter again and again in different personae, through the portable clothes rack, which also doubles as bus shelter, bus and bar. I loved the performances from Guei and Kouyaté as the hatted, chattering women at Matilda's afternoon tea club.
The essential set is a carpet, two portable clothes racks, a blanket covered bed, a table and chairs. Ingenuity provides the rest. Brook's skill is in harnessing our imagination to enhance his production. Le Costume is on for just ten performances in London and then in Warwick for a few more. However, London will see more of Brooks as it has just been announced that his Paris production of Hamlet, in English this time, will be coming to London this year.
Editor's Note: During the summer of 1997 New Yorkers too had an opportunity to see The Suit -- also for an all too brief run. CurtainUp's Les Gutman was as enthusiastic about the play as Lizzie. To read his review go here
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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