Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Theatre review: The Cutting of the Cloth

After a couple of explosive shows to open the year, things get very low-key in Southwark Playhouse's Large space with the posthumous premiere of Michael Hastings' The Cutting of the Cloth. The setting is the basement workshop of a Savile Row tailor's in 1953, where Spijak (Andy de la Tour) and his daughter and "kipper" - a tailor's female assistant - Sydie (Alexis Caley) make a suit or two a week, lovingly hand-stitching all but a single seam. He prides himself on the quality of his work, but Eric (Paul Rider) and his kipper Iris (Abigail Thaw) machine-sew everything, making twice as many suits and taking home twice as big a paycheck. The two men have a family history, and they take out their personal frustrations with each other by having regular arguments over their very different ways of working.

If Spijak's is a dying art nobody told his new apprentice Maurice (James El-Sharawy,) who's just joined to learn the handmade way of doing things. But if Sydie is to be believed, touching cloth like this all day will only be a ticket to working himself to death.

Like one of Spijak's suits, The Cutting of the Cloth is beautifully crafted, but doesn't stand out. There's little to criticise about Tricia Thorns' meticulous production but it feels a bit like a museum piece; it probably doesn't help that Alex Marker's set, while beautifully detailed, has a sepia-tinted look to it. I was trying to figure out why I was being left cold, despite the strong performers, and I think it simply comes down to Hastings' play offering up zero surprises.

It is well staged though, with good performances - de la Tour is a fiery centre to the play, Thaw gives the word "shame" as many different readings as humanly possible, while El-Sharawy has a lovely moment as the scene changes and his first-day nerves visibly turn into the cockiness of someone who's long since made himself at home. I just wish I didn't feel as if I'd seen the story a hundred times before.

The Cutting of the Cloth by Michael Hastings is booking until the 4th of April at Southwark Playhouse's Large Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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