Solomon and Marion, by Lara Foot
Janet Suzman

    I was directing a production of Hamlet in Cape Town, which had been invired to open the RSC's 'complete works' festival, and we were due to fly off on the Thursday after Easter 2006, but a terrible trauma happened that Easter weekend, which has scarred us all ...

....my young man, playing Guildenstern, was murdered. One of our number disappeared because of a totally senseless murder. It was ironic; paradoxical even, that we were doing Hamlet when the idea of some large event happening from nothing is inherent in the idea of its hero.... but that's what happened.

I said goodbye to the cast on Easter Saturday evening, and was giving them Sunday off, and Monday ... then we were doing two or three more performances and then flying to Stratford-on-Avon, which was the dream of all of them, and most especially this young man Brett, who had always longed to go to England, but we never saw him again.

His body was found on Easter Monday morning, on a traffic island near Capetown harbour. It transpired that he and a friend had been picked up by a couple of thugs high on the drug of choice in Cape Town, which is methamphetamine. They call it 'tuc' or 'tuc-tuc' and Solomon in the play mentions this when he is recounting the murder of Marion's boy.

It was very difficult as a director to put back on course the 'ship of state'. We had been holed beneath the water line. We were about to sink, but you know the Noel Coward dictum 'the show must go on'. It must go on, because life must reassert itself. We debated; we all decided... 'no, we must go forward' because we couldn't, in Brett's memory, leave him in this abyss of his own death and, indeed, ours; the death of the play. So we carried it forward and we found a very brave young man who stepped into his shoes, and we took it to Stratford.

Lara Foot, who wrote this lovely play came around to it because it was roiling in her; this terrible event. She said that she had my voice in her head when she wrote it ...Previous to that, my experience in South Africa had been with somebody who I also felt deeply about; the great Barney Simon, who founded the Market Theatre (1) in the 70s, of which I was a founder member.

And so it's true to say that my inspiration comes from peoplewho are living in a war zone; I'll put it that way, and it responds to something in me, which was fashioned by South Africa in my childhood. I think one of the things about South Africa is that it is a traumatized country; you begin to know lots of people who have lost somebody, and I suppose what the author is getting at here, too, is 'meaningless loss'.

I don't think you go unscarred by anything in life; you carry those scars with you, but you learn to deal with them... so when Marionsays 'the pain goes on and on and on, the pain never goes away', I think that's a very true phrase about someone who's been deprived of what they love most; but of course it's much larger because what she encapsulates, with great economy and subtlety (no drum is ever beaten in this play) is the whole Mandelian (2) ethos of reconciliation.

It's beautifully distilled down to two people crossing frontiers previously thought uncrossable; ones of colour prejudices, age and gender. She is old, he is young; she is white, he is black; but they are joined at the hip in that irreducible human event which is - two people 'clicking' - in life.


(1) The Market Theatre is in Johannesburg.
(2) Pertaining to Nelson Mandela.

Taken from Janet Suzman's talk after the play ....
apologies for any transcription errors - Ed


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