A tidy morality tale focusing on galloping commercialism and its disruption of old world ethics and values, The Bespoke Overcoat is one of Wolf Mankowitz’s best-known plays, having won an Academy Award in 1956 for best short subject.
Morry, played by George Layton, swigs on a bottle of brandy (which we soon realise he is seldom without) lamenting the death of his friend Fender and managing to extol his own virtues as a tailor at the same time. Over just 45 minutes Layton creates a neat caricature of a 1950s Jewish man in the twilight of his years. He speaks - in a rather faltering accent - of the virtues of herrings and black bread, as the relationship between him Fender highlights the power of true friendship.
We soon learn that Fender, who worked for a shipping company for most of his life, couldn’t afford a new overcoat but had convinced Morry to make him one. Having died before it was finished he returns from the afterlife, or ‘the hotel’ as he refers to it, to collect his bespoke overcoat so he can rest in peace.
David Graham’s performance as Fender is well-studied - dishevelled and shaking - and deeply touching. Amusingly, one of his most powerful speeches is an angry rant against ranting - the Ranting family firm that is, who fired him after 43 years of service.
Herein lies the crux of the play, for as Fender finally tries on his bespoke overcoat he realises that it's not this coat that he wants but one of the ones he has always been denied by Ranting. Indeed, greedy consumerism refused him a coat (and his livelihood) and now he shall fight back, taking a coat of his own. Mr Ranting is the embodiment of all that is wrong with consumerism with his cold disdain and mocking laugh, and is beautifully presented by James Barron, pocket watch and brylcreemed hair et al.
Ninon Jerome’s direction is slick and Helen Atherton’s scenic design cleverly uses a tailor’s pattern as its basis. All in all this production is worth a viewing if only because it's always refreshing to see a play that has a point to make and makes that point using characters you feel you know, without a soap box and in less than an hour.
- Laura Norman