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The Cutting of the Cloth

Alexis Caley and Abigail Thaw in The Cutting Of The Cloth at the Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Alexis Caley and Abigail Thaw in The Cutting Of The Cloth at the Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Though written in 1973, Michael Hastings’ play is only now being premiered with this production by Tricia Thorns and Two’s Company, the team behind the recent elegant revival of John van Druten’s London Wall. Set in a Savile Row backroom during the 1950s, Hastings’ play was evidently inspired by his personal experience as an apprentice tailor. The volatile Pole, Spijak, is a passionate advocate for the purity of the hand-stitched garment and enjoys antagonising his brother-in-law Eric, a master of machine stitching, whose speed also means he earns more.

Much of the play’s first half is taken up by the efforts of young apprentice Maurice, amiably played James El-Sharawy, to please the tyrannical Spijak, who continually berates him for the twin sins of being left-handed and uncircumcised. While no one has a cymbal hurled at their head, there’s an unexpected but pleasing air of Whiplash to these scenes, though the real heart of the play lies in its layered exploration of change and craftsmanship, obsolesce and professional pride. There’s some strong comic playing from the cast and Alex Marker’s set is lovingly cluttered, a visual approach which complements the language of the play, dense as it is with the terminology of tailors.

Though a romantic subplot between Eric and his ‘kipper’ Iris feels rather too soft-hearted, the play as a whole is far from sentimental - Spijak’s wife is said to have worked herself to death - and it’s this absorbing, shaded portrayal of what it is to labour which lingers.

Dates: March 11-April 4, PN March13

Verdict
Elegant, detailed premiere of a play about craftsmanship in a changing world
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