Le Costume

Can Themba, adapted by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon
Young Vic

For almost 60 years, Peter Brook has been building a reputation as one of finest theatrical practitioners in the world. Since he is now based in Paris, this production presents a relatively rare opportunity to see his work in the United Kingdom.

Le Costume is something of a hybrid, in that it is an African folk-tale adapted by two South Africans for the Market Theatre of Johannesburg and presented in French with surtitles. It is a fable presented largely in descriptive speech with mime and movement replacing much of the reported action.

It commences with a witty prologue told by Maphikela (Sotigui Kouyaté). His laid-back style and sinuous hands introduce a tragic tale of love.

It is a simple fable of folk in the shanty, Sophiatown. Philémon (Isaac Koundé) and Matilda (Sara Martins) are a happily married young couple. He is solid, employed and loves her desperately; she is very beautiful and seemingly devoted to him. Initially, we see the pair enjoying a happy home life that appears to be perfect.

Soon though, rumours spread around town at that Matilda is being unfaithful. Philémon returns home unexpectedly and captures her in flagrante delicto. His punishment, though apparently mild, is cruel. Matilda's lover had left his suit behind and Philémon demands that in future, it will have pride of place in the home and be treated as an honoured guest. Ultimately this wears down the passionate but sensitive Matilda.

The strength of this production is in its great simplicity, the set consisting of little more than a couple of clothes rails, a few chairs and a bed. Everything else is represented by the actors' physical movements and words. At times, this can take on great beauty and at others, high comedy. The latter is best exemplified by a short sequence where Matilda makes love to the suit as if it were a glove puppet.

The play is interspersed with several songs that add little to the story or the production other than a sense of location which the actors and script did anyway.

This is an interesting piece of physical theatre and a rare opportunity to see the work of a world-renowned theatre director.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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