Johannesburg - "Umtsetse" is a word that doesn’t seem to exist in English. It’s the crisp fold that’s ironed into a pair of pants. The line that separates boys from men, and girls from women.
Can Themba’s The Suit does this with surgical precision, as it clearly differentiates right from wrong.
Barney Simon and Mothobi Mutloatse’s adaptation catches you off guard. It starts as a light-hearted comedy, with doting husband Philemon delivering clever Tsotsitaal one-liners to his friend, Maphikela about being a black man in apartheid South Africa.
Suddenly, the entire mood morphs when Philemon catches his wife, Matilda, in bed with a young man, who escapes, leaving his suit behind. The audience is absorbed into a tragedy as a loving husband transforms into the most vicious partner.
As Philemon orders Matilda to treat the suit with the hospitality that she would show to a guest: Share meals, their bedroom, go for walks with them and so on, you realise that mental abuse is at times far worse than physical abuse.
As we deal with the brutal death of Karabo Mokoena, this 50s set production resonates. Unfathomable as it seems – the heinous crime of gender-based violence has not dwindled since Themba first penned the short story.
The entire cast is impeccable on stage, as they draw on real life and translate it into award-winning performances. When Matilda cries for her lost dream of being a singer – which she ironically gave up for her husband’s sake – the souls of the audience cry with her. Yet, when Philemon directs his anger and emotional warfare towards his wife, some may feel he is justified.
By the use of haunting Kofifi-style jazz music, engaging choreography, disturbing images and hurtful dialogue, The Suit ensures you never doubt which side of umtsetse you are on. It presents you with only two options – and you have to take a stand. Are men trash, or do you believe otherwise, and why?
Watch The Suit at The Market Theatre in Johannesburg until 28 May. Tickets cost R70 to R130 from webtickets.