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The Suit - review

For a director who once threw everything he could at the stage – Japanese bunraku puppetry to Hindu epics – Peter Brook has latterly discovered the art of the exquisite miniature: a handful of Beckett fragments visited London in 2007 and 2008, to be followed by a riddling parable about Islam, then last year's pared-to-the-bone Magic Flute. Now, working once again with co-director Marie-Hélène Estienne and musician Franck Krawczyk, a tight team of seven actors and instrumentalists, plus fewer props than are seen in most school plays, he brings to life something that seems almost weightless: a quietly unhappy story set in a 1950s South African township, in which a man punishes his wife for having an affair by forcing her to treat the suit left behind by her lover as an honoured house guest.
In both the original (a short story by Can Themba) and in this rapt staging, though, the significance is all in the silences and shadows. There's a subtle balance of sympathy between William Nadylam's brooding husband and Nonhlanhla Kheswa's uncertain, underconfident wife, and the way his obsession, seemingly non-violent, becomes crucifying mental torture. The direction is as finely crafted as you'd expect: a silk handkerchief, stuffed abruptly in his pocket, becomes a symbol of their crumpled marriage, and the action is threaded with music, from Schubert lieder to a classic Tanzanian song.

Only the monologues dwelling on the horrors of apartheid seem overdone: this young cast, playing a panoply of roles with some onstage audience assistance, gets the story's wider point across easily enough, and in Jared McNeill's heartstopping, half-hummed performance of Strange Fruit it has all the politics it needs. The conclusion may be sombre, but as the stage floods slowly with morning light to the sound of a Bach aria, there's a hint, however troubled, of redemption.