The Orangeville Banner
'The Gentleman Clothier': Bespoke theatre of a higher calibre

WHATSON Mar 27, 2017 by James Matthews  Orangeville Banner

Norm Foster’s The Gentleman Clothier is a bespoke suit to a threadbare entertainment industry bereft of ideas and originality.

Big screen and television offerings are polluted with remakes and rip-offs. But Foster’s words delivered by the skilled cast assembled by Theatre Orangeville is an audience’s perfect respite from the banal alternatives in something to watch.

The Gentleman Clothier opened March 23 with a preview performance at the Town Hall Opera House. Produced by Theatre Orangeville and directed by David Nairn, the company’s artistic director, the play stars Newfoundland’s Maria Dinn, Stephen Sparkes, Jeff Hanson, and Heather Hodgson.

The comedy runs until April 9.

It is a charming story of tailor Norman Davenport, played by Sparkes, lost in the world and aching for the past’s simpler times. He’s just opened a store in Halifax. Actually, Davenport is about to open for his first day when in walks Sophie, played by Dinn. The street-smart and rough young woman is looking for a job and proves to Davenport that she’s a talented tailor who learned the craft from her father and grandfather.

“I think it would’ve been a joy to live back then,” Davenport said.

“You’re not enjoying it now?” said Sophie.

“I’m making the best of it,” Davenport said.

Fuddy-duddy Davenport prefers an age when people spoke 20 highfalutin’ words when five could’ve served just as well. He asks Sophie, who addresses him as Norman, to refer to him as Mr. Davenport as he is her boss.

No, she said. The seal’s already been broken on Norman. And she punctuates her playfulness with a wry grin.


Typical of Foster’s writing, the dialogue is witty and fast. But the written word can only go so far on the page. What Sparkes and Dinn accomplish in their opening minutes together is to breathe life into the words through expertly rapid fire, natural delivery.

Before long, Hanson’s Patrick character also talks himself into a job at the haberdashery. And he has a secret that comes from behind, in a way, at the play’s end. Its reveal comes from behind in the sense of how none of the audience ever saw it coming. It’s storytelling genius. All writers, mere scribblers, envy Foster’s use of words.

“When the world overwhelms us, we all wish we could go back to a simpler time,” said Patrick.

And later, Patrick says: “There is only the here and now.”

Hodgson plays socialite Mrs. Alisha Sparrow who orders a rich bespoke suit as a surprise gift for her high-society husband.

Bespoke tailoring requires a skilful tailor capable at a full floating canvas, fitted and detailed on the individual by hand and through many meticulous measurements. Through its precise preparation, it’s as if the suit is a second skin to the wearer. All that distinguishes bespoke from the much more common made-to-measure style.

Bespoke clothing is traditionally cut from a pattern drafted from scratch for the customer, and so differs from ready-to-wear, which is factory made in finished condition and standardized sizes, and from made-to-measure.

A bespoke suit is prized for what it does for a concave chest and bowed legs.

As is said in The Gentleman Clothier, a bespoke suit looks as if it were planted and watered on an individual.

The Gentleman Clothier is Foster’s most recent work. And, as rendered by the cast’s beautiful delivery, is guaranteed to please and inspire local theatre audiences.


by James Matthews

James Matthews covers Orangeville council, arts and sports. He can be reached at Follow the Orangeville Banner on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook Twitter