The collaboration of Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay and Singapore Repertory Theatre brought to the local art’s scene the three titans of theatre: Peter Brook – the Godfather of Western theatre, Yukio Ninagawa – the Godfather of Asian theatre, and Simon McBurney – arguably the most influential director in the UK – and with them, three of the most breath-taking productions you will ever see. While i didn’t manage to get tickets for Ninagawa and McBurney’s productions, i had the honor of watching Peter Brook’s The Suit.
The play centres around the revenge a cuckold sentences on his adulterous wife. After catching them red handed, Matilda’s lover hastily escapes leaving behind his suit and Philemon (the husband) perversely forces her to treat the suit as their new guest, insisting that it eats with them at mealtimes and sits in chair facing the couple’s marital bed. The grimness of this south african play is underscored by the apartheid looming over this fictional Sophiatown, manifested through the characters mentioning the brutal violences and injustices being carried out.
The play was actually a pretty tame production considering Brook’s penchant for the avante-garde. His minimalistic set comprised of a few wooden chairs painted in bright colors that characters would move around during the play to form structures, and metal frames of varying sizes that doubled as doors, windows, a cupboard, and once, even a telephone. Though extremely ergonomic, i felt the set was insipid at best and i especially didn’t like how the characters’s shoes kept chafing against the rubber mat used on stage to provide traction, making squeaky noises throughout the whole performance.
One must, however, give credit when it is due and the acting by this relatively young cast was phenomenal. The action was well paced, the lines perfectly delivered and the actors were all unbelievably convincing as their characters. Moments of sobriety like Nonhlanhla Kheswa’s (playing Maltida) moving rendition of a folk song illustrating the horrors of the apartheid (‘the scent of magnolia/sweet and fresh/then the sudden smell/of burning flesh) are punctuated with comedic instances- the caricatures of the local townspeople, or in the play’s climax where three audience members were selected and thrust on stage, introduced as party guests. Sadistic as it may be, i gleefully enjoyed watching their uncanny resemblance to deer caught in headlights. The unreal quality of the play was compounded with third person narrations done by characters themselves and the presence of the three man band intermittently being woven into the stage action.
The Suit undoubtedly lives up to its acclaim and it is truly a pity that is only ran locally for three days.
Special thanks to the Singapore Repertory Theatre for making this review possible.
Images credit: espectaculosenmadrid; sistic