Adapted for the stage by Mothobi Mutloatse, The Suit comes from a story by Can Themba, a banned writer who drank himself to death in exile in 1967. In Barney Simon's beautifully spare and focused Market Street Theatre production, the piece's origins are honoured in the direct-to-audience addresses of characters who present as well as participate in the fable. It begins with a detailed, touching and comic run-down on the early-morning routine of the young lawyer's clerk Philemon (Sello Maake ka-Ncube) who always brings breakfast in bed to his wife Matilda (Stella Khumalo). It ends with her dead in his arms.
In between, we witness Philemon's discovery of the wife's adultery, and the weird, humiliating punishment he imposes on her. As though it were a person to whom they had to show meticulous hospitality, the suit left behind by the escaping lover is taken up as an honoured guest, sitting between the couple at dinner, and carried out on its hanger for strolls.
What gives the play texture and depth are the ironies thrown up by this retributive exercise: the paradox, say, that the husband seems to the audience far more aware of his wife as an individual when making a public example of her than he was in his days of private doting. The tone throughout is tragicomic, alive to the ways in which life mocks our troubles, as when in a daze of grief after he hears of the adultery, Philemon is forced to sit on the bus next to a pile of dirty laundry whose intimate smells have little respect for his feelings.
Social problems in the "not-so-new" South Africa get a relentlessly upbeat treatment in John Ledwaba's all-male a cappella musical Jozi Jozi. Glue- sniffing, vagrancy, violent warfare between rival taxi firms, the conning of visiting Asians etc etc: the cheerier side of such subjects is inventively discovered here in songs and routines that blend barbershop and doo-wop harmonies with traditional African chant. Evasive? It would be easy to say so and criticise the lack of bite. Best to follow the MC's instructions and imagine you are in the Market Theatre, where the show's ability to laugh away the strains of a nation in transition no doubt came as a heady tonic.
Showing as part of the London International Festival of Theatre: `The Suit', Tricycle NW6 (0181-328 1000) to 8 July; Jozi Jozi, Theatre Royal Stratford East E15 (0181-534 0310) to 24 JuneReuse content