Legendary director Peter Brook’s The Suit opened at the Young Vic last night and at only 75 minutes it’s certainly short and sweet, but it’s an atmospheric production set to stay with audiences far longer.
The story of husband and wife Philemon (William Nadylam) and Matilda (Nonhlanhla Khewsa) and a betrayal with unusual consequences, The Suit is a fairy tale for adults, weaving a magic that is at times joyous, at others cruel and shocking.
When Philemon, a self-confessed ‘new age man’ who makes breakfast for his wife and won’t allow violence under his roof, finds Matilda in bed with another man, he subjects her to a life of misery when he calmly dictates that the lover’s suit, left abandoned in their bedroom, should be their most prized visitor.
At dinner times Matilda must humiliatingly serve and feed the suit, on Sundays it must join them on walks and at bedtime the suit bears witness to their marital unhappiness, as it is laid out on a chair facing their bed with cruel poignancy.
Based on Can Themba’s short story, the true tale of the South African writer, whose work was banned during apartheid, bubbles subtly through the narrative. Jared McNeil, as The Suit’s narrator and Philemon’s friend and confident, passes information to the audience about the world outside Philemon and Matilda’s unhappy walls, telling us of racist attacks and unbearable living conditions.
Strangely, this is not a sad evening however. The script, which moves seamlessly from naturalistic conversation to poetic monologues, is punctuated with comedy, and three onstage musicians provide an atmospheric soundtrack, accompanying cast members when they occasionally break into songs performed with haunting clarity and soul.
Staged with simplicity and the most minimalist of sets, it is left to the cast to make the story shine and Nadylam steals each scene as the charismatic but tortured Philemon. He moves around the stage with a truly rare ease, interacting with the audience with such laid back charm, that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the intimate story. While Khewsa finds it less easy to make eye contact with the encroaching audience, her occasionally uncomfortable seeming performance only adds to the portrayal of her as an extremely young naive girl, oblivious to the consequences of actions.
The story of The Suit may be a classic case of something and nothing, but in Brook’s hands it is an incredibly magical something.