Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Solomon and Marion’, which is at Birmingham Rep until Saturday 1st November 2014
Janet Suzman has been a towering presence on the world stage for as long as I can remember. She was born in Johannesburg in 1939… so she’s now 75, and completely undiminished. She has a quiet, uncluttered command of the stage and her lines. She’s very matter-of-fact, yet brimming with deep, undemonstrative emotion She almost invites her audience to reach down into her soul and draw the words out for her. I find her mesmeric; but in this play she has met her equal in a young, naturally talented, black South African actor, Khayalethu Anthony.
Together they play Solomon and Marion. He is her former servant’s grandson, emerging from his warrior class. She is a middle class white landowner with a lethargic heart, more that a little fearful about the new democracy. So when, Solomon turns up in her living room for the first time in years, Marion feels threatened.
How she lowers her defences and what his purpose really is are the substance of an endearing first period of the play in which they establish how their new relationship should work. He calls her ‘Miss Marion’, she calls him ‘my boy’. Both object until it becomes clear they are both terms of affection and respect.
But the play explodes like a pressure cooker once the truth tumbles out and a past moment is startlingly re-enacted. Suddenly the atmosphere is electric.
The background to Lara Foot’s script is the awful regularity of meaningless murders and death from Aids, which still haunts South Africa.
Both characters have lost close family and both feel they have little else to lose. That at least is a commonality in two characters who are cultures apart.
As a pen portrait of South Africa’s present problems, it’s superb. So much telling detail is pressed into 75 spare minutes. Twenty years after the apparent abolition of apartheid, the tensions are just skin deep – no matter what colour your skin is.
But whilst there are Solomons and Marions, there is hope. And whilst there are actors of the quality of Khayalethu and Janet, thank God their stories will be told.