In Cape Town in 2006, actor Brett Goldin and designer Richard Bloom left a party and never got home. They were found naked, except for their socks, near a freeway; they had been robbed and shot through the head. Goldin was playing Guildenstern in a production of Hamlet that was about to fly to Stratford to open the Complete Works Festival. Writer Lara Foot worked with the same theatre company and Solomon and Marion is the result of her trying to understand the incomprehensible – and incomprehensibly accepted – violence in her country.
It’s a beautiful play. Its uneasy undertone of violence and mistrust creates tension, but it’s gentle and loving and finds hope in the endless grief.
Marion (Gillian Jones) is an old white South African who lives alone in the Eastern Cape. She doesn’t want to move to Australia to be with her daughter and grandchildren and leaves her door and windows open, despite the constant threat of violence. Solomon (Pacharo Mzembe) is the black grandchild of Marion’s former maid and he turns up one day saying that he’s been sent to see her.
In a world that’s dominated by loss, poverty and guilt, Foot explores two people who cannot escape the violence and are secretly scared of their own complicity.
In a production where design (Richard Roberts, set and costume; Rachel Burke, lighting; David Bridie, music), performance and script work like one, director Pamela Rabe lets this very place-specific story resonate way beyond its South African borders. As its secrets are dug up and assumptions buried in the hilly floor of sand, Marion and Solomon try to understand why the other is in their life, each wanting the other gone, but terrified that they might leave.
But the night belongs to Mzembe and Jones. I first saw Jones in the early 80s in Jim Sharman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; when Mzembe wasn’t even born. You don’t forget the great actors when you see them, and on TV and stage, Jones is an actor who leaves ego aside and creates characters who live. Mzembe graduated from NIDA in 2007 and lets us see every nuance of Solomon’s complex relationship with Marion, which begins with a confused mix of resentment, respect and pity.
This story had its roots in the kind of violence and loss that creates hatred, but it leaves the hate behind to reveal the broken hearts of two people whose have to live with its consequences.