Solomon and Marion | MTCLeft – Pacharo Mzembe and Gillian Jones. Photo – Jeff Busby

This play by acclaimed South African playwright and director Lara Foot makes a sure transition to Australia in the capable hands of director Pamela Rabe. Solomon and Marion may not have the same edge in the comfort of the Arts Centre as it would in the turmoil of its native land, but the emotional impact of this wonderful piece of theatre is undiminished.

The political is personal in this two-hander, where the relationship between black and white and their changing status is played out between an elderly white woman and a young black African. Foot uses this unlikely relationship to explore the tension, violence, loneliness and isolation of post-apartheid South Africa. There is no debate or wordy dialogue, just a slowly developing conversation and a dramatic focus on one violent incident that changed both their lives and epitomises the era.

Some of the script is in monologue, as Marion, played superbly by Gillian Jones, writes to her daughter in Australia and talks to her dead son. Her accent unfaltering, Jones inhabits the role with a physicality and breadth of emotion that takes you into the heart of her life. With perfectly timed and nuanced dialogue, she makes us believe that here is a woman who has lost everything and now refuses to leave the place she has always known as home.

Even in the bizarre stage set designed by Richard Roberts – a shambolic collection of furniture strewn among sand – Jones seems completely at home. And the lighting by Rachel Burke that bathes the stage in the dusks and dawns of Africa, takes us there, to a place that young people are deserting and where those who remain are living with violence and death close at hand.

Pacharo Mzembe, in his MTC debut as Solomon, takes his character on a huge journey, a long way from the shuffling, servile intruder we first encounter. In his convincing patois, Mzembe runs the gamut of emotions from menacing to childishly exuberant. He brings humour, lightness and energy into the production and is the perfect foil for Jones’s introspection.

Rabe’s production is an intelligent, sensitive and entertaining version of a brilliant play. There is a slow build-up to each dramatic moment in the finely crafted script, except perhaps before the major revelation, which would have benefited from a longer pause. Overall, it is a remarkable achievement for an Australian theatre company. And Foot’s persistent hope, in spite of all, is allowed to shine through.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Solomon and Marion
by Lara Foot

Director Pamela Rabe

Venue: Arts Centre Fairfax Studio, Melbourne
Dates: 7 June – 20 July 2013
Time: Mon/Tues 6.30pm;Wed 1pm & 8pm;Thurs/Fri 8pm; Sat 4pm & 8.30pm.
Tickets: from $58, Under 30s just $33

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