Dame Janet Suzman stars in Laura Foot's play about a woman struggling to find meaning in a transformed South Africa.
There’s a distinct whiff of missed opportunity about this production, which arrives at the Print Room after debuting at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival.
In the ‘new’ South Africa of 2009, Marion Banning (Janet Suzman) has been left behind – her daughter has emigrated and her son is dead. Her days are spent holed up in the family home, writing letters. Then, one day, 19-year-old Solomon Xaba (Khayalethu Anthony) arrives. But why?
South African writer and director Lara Foot deftly sketches a region still rife with violence and deep-seated tensions. As Solomon says, Marion is caught between town and township. An elderly white woman, she’s vulnerable on her own in a land where the people – and not just the government – would happily reclaim her property.
But, while we get a few snippets of Solomon’s second-class treatment at the hands of white people, the play only ever seems to skim the surface of the social complexities of modern-day South Africa. We end up with a familiar portrait of grief, isolation and guilt as a study of reconciliation.
And the script too often favours unrealistic characterisation to extend the mystery around Solomon. After Marion has discovered that Solomon lied about his reason for being there, would she really wait until the end of his next visit before asking why?
While Suzman’s good at finding the humour in forthright Marion, her hand-wringing in the sadder scenes overpowers their emotional effect. It’s up to Anthony, impressive as the watchful, inscrutable Solomon, to give this production the edge it lacks elsewhere.