October 04, 2014

Brook captivates with tale of betrayal and revenge

Brook Captivates with Tale of Betrayal and Revenge

The Suit
Direction, Adaptation and Musical Direction
by Peter Brook, Marie-Helene Estienne, Franck Krawczyk
Based on The Suit by Can Themba, Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon
Production by CICT/ Theatre des Bouffes du Nord
State Theatre Company SA
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
Duration 70 minutes.
October 3. Tickets $ 26 – $ 67
Bookings : BASS 131 246 or
Until October 12.

“I can take an empty space and call it a bare stage”, director Peter Brook famously wrote, in 1968, in his timelessly illuminating book of essays on theatre. He still places actors in performing spaces, whether on a square of carpet (as he and his entourage of international actors did in villages in Saharan Africa in the 1970s), in quarries in Avignon and Adelaide with the spectacle of The Mahabharata, or with the modest theatrics of this 2012 revival of The Suit. From this simple pact between actors and audience he has made captivating theatre for more than sixty years.

Originally a short story published in 1953, The Suit, by banned Johannesburg writer Can Themba, is a tale of love, betrayal and cruelty, set in the bitter years of South African apartheid. When doting husband, Philemon comes home and catches his wife Matilda in bed with another man, he is devastated. The half-clad lover escapes through the window leaving his suit hung neatly over a chair.

Philemon then orders Matilda to treat the suit like an honoured guest, giving it pride of place at the dinner table, in the bedroom, even taking it with them when they go strolling. Philemon’s revenge is a meal served cold to a jacket and coat hanger, and, for Matilda, it begins a life of remorse, humiliation and defeat.

Simply designed by Oria Puppo using table, wardrobe, six brightly coloured chairs and a square of carpet, Brook’s vibrant production, with just three actors and three musicians, creates a community which despite privation and hardship is also open-hearted and celebratory. As Philemon and Matilda, William Nadylam and Nonhlanhla Kheswa are outstanding. Nadylam engages us as the wronged husband even as his behaviour becomes unhinged, while Kheswa brings a dignity and vivacity to Matilda which makes the tragic conclusion richly poignant. Ery Nzaramba provides narrative to the story, gentle comedy as Philemon’s friend Maphikela, and grim insights into the brutality of the apartheid regime.

The music is splendid throughout. Kheswa’s Matilda expresses her aspirations and disappointments through memorable renditions of songs such as Forbidden Games and Malaika, both recorded by singer-activist Miriam Makeba, while Nzaramba’s Maphikela sings a dirge-like version of Strange Fruit, the song about lynchings in the American South made famous by Billie Holliday.

The band – Arthur Astier on guitar, Mark Kavuma on trumpet and Danny Wallington on piano and accordion – is first rate, underscoring the action and at times joining the improv scenes. There are interludes from Schubert, and in the long fade, as Philemon realizes the enormity of his cruel folly, Wallington’s Bach piano solo is heartbreaking.

Murray Bramwell

“Brook captivates with tale of betrayal and revenge”, The Australian, October 6, 2014, p.12.

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