Theatre Des Bouffes Du Nord
DBS Arts Centre/Last Saturday
A well-tailored suit can make a man and as it turns out - it can break him as well.
Director and theatre legend Peter Brook, master of the minimal, has crafted a production that is at once both gutting and uplifting, one brimming with lilting musicality and song but also straining against the weight of pain.
Philemon (Ivanno Jeremiah) has it all. A decent job, good friends and a beautiful wife, Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa), whom he adores. Or does he?
He catches her in bed with another man, and in that instant, their lives are irrevocably transformed.
The violence inflicted here is emotional. He forces her to endure a punishment as sadistic as it is masochistic - to treat the suit of her departing lover as a guest in their home.
Written as a short story by the late South African writer Can Themba in the 1950s, The Suit is as heartbreaking as it is achingly funny.
The anecdote of a black South African man facing discrimination from various churches, for instance, is told with a lightheartedness that makes his circumstances even more devastating.
Throughout the evening, the laughter emanating from the audience was one laced with tears.
"I can take any space and call it a bare stage," Brook wrote in his seminal theatre text, The Empty Space (1968), one whose opening lines have been memorised by theatre students and practitioners the world over - "A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged."
He is true to his word.
There is no melodrama, there are no histrionics. The actors deliver their lines matter-of-factly, even when their characters are bottling up huge floods of emotion - as if to say, it is what it is.
The only prop is the titular suit. The set of colourful wooden chairs, stacked like children's building blocks on stage, belie the sharp edge of Themba's bitter medicine.