THE CUTTING OF THE CLOTH
by Michael Hastings.
Southwark Playhouse (The L) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 4 April 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 March.
Scrupulous depiction of how some things used to be.
Theatre programmes rarely credit a Tailor as well as Costume Designer. But Michael Hastings’ play is set in a workshop belonging to a Savile Row outfit during 1953-55, when English theatre was on the verge of a revolutionary leap, and the playwright soon to be first produced.
Meanwhile, he was something like nervous apprentice Maurice Gardner, who’s terrified of workshop overseer Spijak until, recalling Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, Spijak, with his hand-stitching skill, is overwhelmed by the drink he’s increasingly sleeping-off while his quiet, machinist co-worker Eric keeps calm and carries on. Maurice, meanwhile, rises till, no longer fearful and crouching oppressed, he stands straight, looks smart and takes over.
But his writings, scribbled in spare moments in the workshop toilet, are flung aside. How real is victory in this little world, where importance comes from being the one the boss ’phones with orders and work’s thrown-in to individuals in brown-paper parcels from an unseen Runner? Isn’t it failure – not escaping, as the women workers urge? Or is Hastings, looking back from later years, aware that, for all the individual successes, his plays never made gave him such definite status?
For his writing, always intelligent, can be ponderous here, despite all the gradual induction of viewers into this world and its contradictory variety, with characters who suggest an inner-life through their words. Maybe it’s generational: things have speeded-up, with shorter swifter stage action, and fast-plotted screenplays. Maybe Hastings was more like the old-fashioned Spijak than he might have wanted.
Certainly this eventual premiere from director Tricia Thorns moves seamlessly, characters consistent, developing gradually. Eric and the women simply get-on with the job, Paul Rider’s Eric quietly keeping his private life to himself, Alexis Caley and Abigail Thaw making more of women without aspirations than the script might actually be giving them.
In the central roles, James El-Sharawy reveals the boss inside the apprentice as Maurice while Andy de la Tour’s Spijak is very deliberately Jewish but forceful in his petty tyranny. Alex Marker’s realistic set suggests a utilitarian space, just a bit cramped, its detritus aggregated over the decades.
Spijak Wazki: Andy de la Tour.
Eric: Paul Rider.
Sydie Wazki: Alexis Caley.
Iris: Abigail Thaw.
Maurice Gardner: James El-Sharawy.
Runner: Paddy Brant.
Director: Tricia Thorns.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Neill Brinkworth.
Sound: Dominic Bilkey.
Costume: Emily Stuart.
Tailor: Jack Goode.