The Suit by Neelam Mansingh – A review

I saw The Suit at the National Theatre Festival held recently in Trivandrum. It was the best of the three that I saw: the others being The Hare and the Tortoise – which was weirdly good – Daak Ghar – good – and Macbeth Revisited – which was incomprehensible. The Suit is a play which explores a sensitive topic, that of adultery and how it affects marriage afterwards.

Caution: spoilers hereafter, so if you are planning to watch the play somehow, don’t read further.

The Suit

The initial scenes of the play are all about exaggerated domestic bliss. There are a couple of really lovable moments: when the wife bathes the husband (the “bathroom” is the underside of a workman’s shelf and a bowl) for one, and when he keeps forgetting things he needs to take to office for another. One thing which Ms. Singh really conveys is how unselfconscious both are towards each other. The husband does not have a stiff-upper-lip here: pictured above, he dons lipstick and a bra to amuse his wife with a wakeup garama garam chai.

When the play does take a chilling turn, the until then bright stage turns gloomy and dusk. A neighbour informs the husband that every time he leaves, there’s a man who visits his house. The music turns cold, and the husband makes a worried excuse to return to the house. He runs until he reaches, and exhausted, settles down to watch what happens inside. The fresh lunch tastes like sand in his mouth but he forces it down as he watches his wife getting ready for somebody.

It’s interesting how this is picturized on stage and it’s a technique I observed in Dak Ghar too. It possibly is very common but it was a novelty to me. Both the husband and the wife face the audience so we can see their expressions clearly. But the husband is clearly watching his wife who is unaware of his attention.

She dresses in skimpy lingerie and primps, and he sees a man wearing a suit enter through the back door and hug her. They embrace and make it to the bed. Unable to watch further, he vomits his lunch and rushes in through the door, still vomiting. The man rushes out and his wife cringes by the corner of the bed. Her lover has left the suit and it remains draped over a chair, between them.

What follows makes the play awesome but also exceedingly disturbing. If we expect shouting matches to follow, blame games and accusations, even violence, we do not get that. We are treated to two monologues – extreme regret from the wife and melancholy from the husband, but the play moves on as if nothing drastic has happened. What changes though is that in a fit of vicious sadism, the husband demands that the Suit be treated as an honored guest from then on. It’s cruelly comic when he demands that the wife carry on a charade – picking up the suit wherever they go. On a walk, in what seems like a flashback to earlier domestic bliss when they joke and laugh, the presence of the suit becomes jarring. Never does he allow her to forget.

It culminates in a party that she throws for her friends. Till the very end, he is the face of a perfect husband, but then he demands the suit be brought out. In front of everybody, she is forced to feed “her honored guest”. The guests, appalled, leave and they are left in silence.

Another technique I noticed here was how the audience was substituted for the guests. In the middle of saying “Welcome Mr. Mehra, it’s so nice to have you,” he suddenly throws out, “You there, gentleman in the red shirt” pointing to an audience member, “have we been introduced?” The involvement that we feel makes what happens next more disturbing.

Full of righteous fury, the husband turns to the wife. She looks down at the suit and slowly starts pulling it on. “Stop” he says, but she ignores him. Suddenly powerless, he asks her, “Why?”

“Why?” she scoffs. “The suit has become my skin.”

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