Review: The Cutting of the Cloth, Southwark Playhouse

For Spijak, it is commitment to fine craftsmanship that spurs him to commit excessive hours to his profession and produce work of the finest quality, no matter how long it takes – perfection by hand is a must. This way of working is foreign to Eric, whose business model is regulated by a necessity to produce staggering amounts of products with very little notice. To achieve this he’s invested in a sewing machine, producing garments with ease and speed. The competition between them is uneasy, as ultimately Eric’s way of working will prove more efficient, profitable and in line with increasingly demanding consumers. Yet, with the arrival of Maurice, a 16-year-old apprentice who’s come to learn from Spijak, the dynamic of the workroom becomes dislodged.

Like Spijak’s approach, the play moves along slowly, methodically and expertly, as dictated by Bafta-winning author Michael Hastings’s tight script, which infuses the stage with bundles of rhythm language. The two tailors and their assistants work in harmony together with a blissful routine of gentle mockery and playful vocal jabs, which keep both tailors on the defence. As Spijak, Andy de la Tour brings warmth to the master despite his stern approach to teaching Maurice. The remaining cast are strong: Abigail Thaw as Iris gathers the loudest laughs for her deadpan, sweet portrayal of a weathered, knowing assistant.

At the core of the play is the fragile relationship between teacher and student; given the vulnerability of Spijak’s profession in the changing textile climate presented here, his tutelage of Maurice is particularly pertinent. Two’s Company’s The Cutting of the Cloth ponders the value of such a transfer of knowledge, asking the question: why should a young boy learn such traditional craft in a swiftly changing market?

 

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