Theatre review: Solomon and Marion | Undone | Three Little Pigs
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Solomon and Marion at Assembly Hall (Venue 35), Undone at Assembly George Square (Venue 3), and The Three Little Pigs at Assembly George Square (Venue 3), reviewed by Mark Fisher
Buoyed by last year’s success of Mies Julie , South African theatre companies are out in force again on the Fringe. It feels like the largest wave of work from that country since the angry explosion of anti-apartheid drama in the 1980s. The biggest name among this year’s crop is Dame Janet Suzman starring in Solomon and Marion (* * *), a two-hander written for her by Lara Foot and staged by the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town.
In her programme note, Foot writes about the real stories of violence and bereavement that inspired her. She mentions actor Brett Goldin who was murdered in 2006 when he was appearing in Suzman’s production of Hamlet. She also talks about the killing of security workers by their own colleagues in a dispute over a strike.
Disappointingly, it’s one of those occasions where the programme note is more interesting than the play. Suzman plays Marion Banning, a bereaved white woman living alone in a remote and potentially dangerous corner of South Africa. Despite having a heart condition and a daughter in Australia, she is determined to live out her final days in the only place she knows as home. It’s a solitary life, so she is not too spooked by the uninvited arrival of Solomon Xaba (Khayalethu Anthony) in her kitchen. She’s only slightly perturbed by his admission that he has been spying on her for some time.
Little more than that happens in this uninspiringly naturalistic play until Solomon gets round to announcing the real reason for his friendship. As a terrified child, he witnessed the murder of her son, an event he relates in a mix of past tense description and present tense re-enactment. Packed into the story are the continuing problems of wealth disparity, racial policy and reaching reconciliation. Foot, however, fails to give these themes much dramatic form, leaving the play looking more like an inconsequential bourgeois drama than something of any urgency.
Undone (* * *), written and performed by Wessel Pretorius, has the opposite weakness. With his muscular physique, arch delivery and dense poetic turn of phrase, he gives every impression of having something vital to say. Naked but for his pants and a string of pearls, he recalls a young Steven Berkoff as he performs with speed, verbal precision and physical grace. In isolation, it would be a performance of impressive poise and focus – if only it was even half-way clear what Undone was about.
Pretorius starts off in a bathtub singing lullabies and suggesting he’s going to tell a story about Dionysus, the Greek god of good times. What follows instead is a coming-of-age story, as he takes on the roles of mother, father, son and indifferent big brother. Each speaks at length in heightened style without ever making it clear what issue is at stake, what problem is to be resolved.
Pretorius’s language is poetic but not dramatic and it all just goes on a bit.
No such complaint about The Three Little Pigs (* * * *), an entertaining reworking of the fable set in a noir-ish world of corruption and police assassination. Created for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown by Tara Notcutt with actors Rob van Vuuren, James Cairns and Albert Pretorius, it follows the investigation by the National Poultry Authority into the deaths of two members of the pig force whose brother, Little Pig, is now in mortal fear of the Big Bad Wolf, an underworld boss.
That description sounds unpromising, but the intensity of the performances ensures the funny jokes about coke-snorting hyenas and short-fuse Dobermans take second place to the tough crime-drama plot. If it doesn’t quite flourish into the political allegory it promises, it remains a compelling piece of gritty genre fiction, as dark as any TV cop show in its vision of corruption and manipulation – and twice as surreal.
Originally published in The Scotsman