Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Solomon and Marion
Baxter Theatre Company and Assembly
Venue: Assembly Hall
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
Solomon and Marion is the story of a burgeoning relationship between an older white South African woman (Janet Suzman) and a black teenager ( Khayalethu Anthony), both of whom are profoundly affected by loss and the violence of the new South Africa. As well as powerful performances, the play has real insight into today’s South Africa.
Janet Suzman is Marion, a woman living in a house on the Eastern Cape. As the play opens, she is writing a letter to her daughter, which she continues to write throughout the play. Her daughter has moved to Australia no longer able to cope with the level of violence in the new South Africa. Marion, by contrast is careless of her own safety, her front door unlocked to the world. Though Marion appears feisty and in control, she cuts a lonely figure left alone in the world and defined by absences and the past. No longer connecting to the outside world, she has moved her broken TV into the garage, and does little beyond sitting and staring into space.
Suddenly, without even a knock, a young Xhosa teenager enters the house. Once Marion has ascertained that she’s not about to be murdered in her own house, Solomon (Khayalethu Anthony) tells her that he’s there because his grandmother, Marion’s former washer woman, has asked him to check that Marion is OK.
Solomon continues to turn up for no apparent reason, variously bringing a gift of chicken feet, and painting her house. The two circle warily round each other, strangers from different cultures in the same country. Eventually Marion stops questioning his visits and accepts his companionship. An unlikely friendship is struck between two characters whose pasts are full of loss and threaten to overwhelm their presents. But Solomon has come for a reason: he has a message for Marion. When he finally delivers his message there is a kind of catharsis and a re-reckoning for both Marion and Solomon. With the truth comes a reconciliation of kinds.
Simply staged in a domestic living room with subtle lighting, the play and the acting are the main attractions. Lara Foot’s latest play is deceptively simply structured. The dialogue is pacy and funny, making its points with a barbed wit, bouncing the two characters off each other. South African plays towards the end of apartheid were full of hope and idealism. Now with the transition to a new South Africa, many of the dreams have been dashed and the disillusion is profound. This play takes that disillusion, and transcends it to show by acknowledging the past there can still be a way forward.
Janet Suzman is a towering presence as Marion, moving from a woman of rich feistiness with visible cracks of vulnerability to one reeling in raw pain. Khayalethu Anthony ably matches and complements her Marion, as a cheeky, brash teenager. The two bounce sparks off each other, building a fragile relationship that is strengthened by the revelations Solomon shares.
At the end of the play, Marion and Solomon sit together watching a new TV which Solomon has brought into the house, waiting for the World Cup to begin. There is a new optimism: Marion is rejoining the world and accepting the past, and Solomon has owned up and faced his responsibility. Black and white can come together and move forward in the new South Africa – let’s hope that’s true.