Marion Banning (Janet Suzman) lives alone, in the South African middle of nowhere. Not in town, not in the township. She writes to her daughter, who lives in Australia, lengthy letters that do not seem ever to be sent. Marion will not visit her; she is counting her days grieving over a divorce and her murdered son, Jonathan. When Solomon (Khayalethu Anthony) squirms his way into her life, Marion reluctantly accepts his taking care of her without asking why. Slowly but surely, the two form a bond – the deeper basis of which is the phenomenal denouement of the piece.
Set entirely in Marion’s grubby living room, Lara Foot both writes and directs a play in which the brittleness of post-apartheid South Africa is subtly explored in a variety of ways (Solomon happens to be the son of Marion’s former help). Foot sets the play in 2010, ahead of the World Cup’s turmoil. The juxtaposition of an old, white woman with British ancestry and a young black boy who speaks Zulu works to enable both humour and thoughtfulness. The two exchange stories of their past, illuminating a world of racial unrest but also highlighting even more universal themes, such as family relationships and getting older.
The onstage chemistry between Suzman and Anthony is perhaps part due to the fact that they are, as actors, nearly as far apart as the characters in the play (this is Anthony’s first professional engagement). Solomon’s animated stories, such as the one about a shopper asking him about hollandaise sauce, are done with infectious vigour and neat comic timing. Suzman, meanwhile, steals the show by letting Marion open up at tortoise speed, just delicate enough to make the audience believe, after 75 minutes, they have actually been in her house for a year.
Mannie Manim’s lighting design intelligently indicates the passing of the days using a shifting window filter, so that the sun and the moon throw shadows in the room while we get a sense of the outside, too. The ghetto hip-hop Solomon plays does the same, the angry lyrics and thumping beat reminding us of what is happening not that far from where we are.
Towards the end, when things take a turn and disclose a moving truth, we completely believe in the bond that Solomon and Marion now have in a metaphor for hope. Solomon and Marion is a very powerful expression of humanity in the fragile, traumatised state of South Africa.
Solomon and Marion is at the Print Room until 29 November. For more information and tickets, see the Print Room website.