Solomon and Marion

Lara Foot
The Print Room, Baxter Theatre Centre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre
The Print Room at The Coronet

Janet Suzman as Marion and Khayalethu Anthony as Solomon Credit: Ruphin Coudyzer
Janet Suzman as Marion Credit: Ruphin Coudyzer
Janet Suzman as Marion and Khayalethu Anthony as Solomon Credit: Ruphin Coudyzer

A young Xhosa turns up at the home of Marion Banning, an aging white woman living alone in an isolated spot in the Eastern Cape, midway between the big town and a shantytown. It turns out he is the grandson of a woman who used to work for her; she realises she actually knew him when he was little. What is he doing there?

There are protesters wanting Marion’s land to be given to the “rightful owners” and the government has made her an offer for it but she is determined to die in her home. But she is only too aware of the violence in modern South Africa and knows someone has been prowling around the house for days. She is wary.

An opening image of the young man, Solomon Xaba, in traditional tribal guise going through some sort of ritual washing is a clue to his presence, but it doesn’t connect clearly until long into Lara Foot’s play.

At first the play seems to be about loneliness. Divorced Marion is writing a letter to the married daughter across the world in Australia who no longer makes her biennial visit because South Africa has got too dangerous—a photo on the wall is her dead son. Solomon too has lost family. His parents both died of AIDS, now his grandmother’s gone, and he claims it was she who sent him to visit.

A bond grows between these two hurt people; can they comfort each other? It is a kind of metaphor for the reconciliation that South Africa strives for but, after discovering more about each of them in a dramatic explosion that becomes almost re-enactment, Solomon gets the courage to reveals his real motivation: an awful truth that has been weighing on with him since he was a small boy. Though it happened after the official end of Apartheid, this is like the truth part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Janet Suzman captures exactly that mixture of determination and desolation that is Marion, a woman who knows herself only too well part of whom has died with her son. She never plays for sympathy and consequently is even more moving. In a well-matched casting, Khayalethu Anthony gives Solomon both the awkwardness and the well-meaning enthusiasm of a young man who has no idea how to deal with this difficult situation.

The emphasis here is on the personal, not any political allegory, but these are two totally honest performances which nevertheless do seem to echo the disappointments and frustrations of both white liberals and blacks hoping for a better life.

The play is partly a response to the 2006 murder of actor Brett Goldin and fashion designer Richard Bloom, stripped and shot in the head in Cape Town, a murder that happened when Brett was rehearsing to play Guildenstern in a production of Hamlet directed by Janet Suzman at the Baxter Theatre (of which writer/director Foot is artistic director) which became part of the RSC’s 2007 Complete Works Festival.

Those painful facts must give this play great significance for its creators. An audience does not need to be aware of them to be moved by it and to see how it resonates with contemporary South African experience.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton