The Suit wears its complexities lightly. On the surface it’s a sort of fun and funny adult’s Aesop’s fable – ‘the woman who cheated on her husband and was made to care for her lover’s suit’ – but at its heart is a deep well of trouble and sadness. Co-directed by Peter Brook, he of Lord of the Flies and theatre bible The Empty Space fame, it’s also a chance to see a legend’s work in action.
In Sofiatown, a poor township of Jo’burg, South Africa, music and laughter thrive despite the oppressive Apartheid regime. Happy couple Philemon and Matilda’s (themselves quite fable-like names) lives turn sour when she’s caught in bed with another man and, when the rumbled lover leaves in panic in his underpants, Philemon cooks up a crazily cruel plan. Matilda must care for the discarded suit as an honoured house guest, feeding it meals and accompanying it on walks. It’s funny but there’s also a shame and torturous element captured subtly by actress Nonhlanhla Kheswa, fitting with a play that doesn’t shove its feelings down your throat but rather lets a gentle sadness permeate.
Music adds to the storytelling feel and general joy of the township. Musicians are used imaginatively as extras in scenes as well as providing delightful sound effects, a thrum of the guitar to suggest a phone being picked up and such like. Kheswa, actress and also one time Lion King star and Wyclef Jean vocalist, had us transported with songs including a soulful Tanzanian ballad and a Nina Simone classic.
A happy sad tale, The Suit rockets along making its 90 minutes short, skilful and sweet.