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Sunday, September 22, 2013


(Janet Suzman & Khayalethu Anthony. Pic by Ruphin Coudyzer)

Congratulations to the Hilton Festival for letting KZN audiences appreciate such a fine piece of theatre. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The flagship production of the Witness Hilton Arts Festival this year was Solomon and Marion following the festival’s aim of bringing top quality national theatre productions to KZN audiences who generally lose out on the touring production circuit which only covers Johannesburg and Cape Town

The two-hander is written and directed by Lara Foot, CEO and Artistic Director of the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town and one of South Africa’s multiple award-winning luminaries. It earned her the 2012 Fleur du Cap award for Best New South African Play with Mannie Manim winning the award for Best Lighting Design.

Foot acknowledges that when she wrote the play, she had Dame Janet Suzman in mind as Marion. A factor that influenced her writing was the murder of actor Brett Goldin in 2006, just prior to his leaving for the UK to perform in the Baxter’s production of Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works Festival in Stratford. Suzman, who was the director of Hamlet, went on to create the Brett Goldin Bursary with fellow South African and RSC Associate Sir Antony Sher, the RSC and the Baxter Theatre Centre.

Taking this event and looking at it at a time when she describes South Africa feeling desperate both politically and socially, Foot found “a symbol of life which exists in unlikely relationships.”

Set in the days of the World Cup finals, Solomon and Marion is about two complete opposites in post-apartheid South Africa drawn together by their inner search for redemption.

Initially seen huddled in a blanket and sheepskin slippers, Marion is an ageing and frail, though feisty, soul battling to write a letter to her daughter in Australia. She complains about the drought, her health and life in general, blithely saying that she’s given up smoking while lighting a cigarette at the same time. Marion is trapped in a world and environment she mistrusts. She expects an invasion from criminals as a matter of course in the “new” South Africa.

That invasion happens. Bursting through her door unannounced (later she teaches him to knock first!) comes a young man with a strong link to her past. He may have done wrong in his youth but he is not a criminal out to get her but rather to give her a better quality of life. She slowly learns to trust him, despite his revelations. He insists on sorting out her life, “borrowing” paint to do up the walls and a television set to watch the World Cup.

Gradually they learn to understand each other, laugh and argue as equals. This is a beautifully-written script full of humour while it deals with so many issues that beset South Africa today.

Playing the part of Solomon is Khayalethu Anthony, an actor, director and writer who made his mainstream theatre debut with this production.

Suzman is a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to drama in the Queen's 2011 Birthday Honours. Her career spans five decades on an international scale and she has been recognised in academic as well as theatre circles worldwide. Khayalethu Anthony is a mere 26 years old who began performing in Grade 7.

Considering the gap in their ages as well as their life and theatre experiences, one might be expected to offer Anthony a bit of leeway when reviewing this production. No leeway needed here! He matches Suzman mood for mood, pause for pause, nuance for nuance and is a perfect foil for Marion’s journey of acceptance.

Patrick Curtis’s set is basic and homely and I liked Mannie Manim’s lighting changes which went through several states before gently settling on the next scene.

Congratulations to all involved in this first-class production and to the Hilton Festival for letting KZN audiences appreciate such a fine piece of theatre. – Caroline Smart