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 The TheatreguideLondon Review

The Suit
Young Vic Theatre Summer 2012

As part of World Theatre London, the Young Vic plays host to Peter Brook's Paris company, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, as it revisits one of its biggest successes, Brook and fellow adaptor/directors Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk finding intriguing and moving new resonances in the familiar material. 

Ultimately based on a short story by South African black writer Con Themba, via an earlier stage adaptation, The Suit tells of a loving husband who finds his wife in bed with another man. The guy runs off but leaves his clothes behind, and the husband's revenge is to make his wife treat the suit as an honoured guest, setting a place for it at meals and introducing it to visitors.

When Brook's company last brought this play to London (in French, as Le Costume, in 2003) it played as a comic fable, the light tone supported by interpolated songs and bits of irrelevant comic business. 

This time around, in English, some of the gags remain but new emphasis is given to discussions of police brutality, forced resettlements and other horrors of apartheid, and the music now includes an African lament for lost dreams and Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit. 

The result is a much darker tone, with the revenge fable now feeling like one more in a Russian doll series of traps, both husband and wife caught in a painful game neither can find a way out of. 

The play's roots as a short story are reflected in the Story Theatre device of each character narrating his or her own actions in third person, a distancing technique perhaps more appropriate to the original light tone than to this more serious version. 

There is a bit of an old-fashioned air to this production. The Story Theatre technique is far from original, and is a staple of every small-scale touring company, while the outrage at apartheid may seem dated. But reminders of that horror are always valid, and reminding us with more sorrow than anger is an original and quite evocative touch. 

The Suit is ultimately a very subversive work, luring us in with its promise of harmless light entertainment and leaving us more shaken and moved than we expected to be.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Suit - Young Vic 2012    

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