The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Le Costume
by Lizzie Loveridge

Le Costume returns to the Young Vic

I welcomed the opportunity to re-review Peter Brook's Le Costume which has returned to the Young Vic in London for a fortnight. On the way out, I fell into a disagreement with one of my fellow critics because he felt the production has nothing new or innovative to offer. He pointed out that I was reacting to the simplicity of the story rather than they way in which was staged. Fair enough! That is largely true. Later he told me that he had just been in Edinburgh for three weeks and seen many productions using similar techniques and was bemused at the positive reaction of the audience at the Young Vic. The answer is of course that they mostly hadn't been in Edinburgh and the simplicity came to them as fresh and charming.

On second viewing, I felt that the scenes towards the end where Matilde finds a social niche for herself with a group from the community and the party scene struck me more as comic fillers than intrinsic to the story - like a song inserted into a musical which does not advance the plot. However this is on second viewing. Granted some of the 1950s sexism is egregious as men and women are locked into their traditional roles in the South African township. The whole still has that magical blend of a small scale Greek tragedy with the surreal and is well worth a trip to Waterloo's The Cut. I shall retain the image of Mathilde with the suit tied round her, both she and her husband, trapped with the knowledge of her infidelity.

New Production notes
Written by Can Themba
Adapted by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon
French Adaptation by Marie-Hélène Estienne
Directed by Peter Brook
With: Rachid Djaïdani, Isaac Koundé, Sotigui Kouyaté, Sara Martins
Costumes: Chloé Obolensky
Lighting Designer: Philippe Vialatte
Technical Director: Philippe Mulon
Running time: One hours 20 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7928 6363
Booking to 13th September 2003
Re-reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th August 2003 Performance at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 (Tube /Rail Station: Waterloo)

--The Original Review by Lizzie Loveridge
A long time ago, in the west of Johan

nesburg, there was a town, a marvellous town called Sophiatown. It wasn't pretty or sweet smelling, it did not gleam with flowers on the balconies, its windows did not reflect the sunshine, no the windows of Sophiatown had no panes, they were boarded up. But what made it marvellous was its inhabitants.
-- Mothobi Mutlostse and Barney Simon setting the scene
Hubert Koundé, Tanya Moodie
Hubert Koundé, Tanya Moodie
(Photo: Gilles Abegg)
Peter Brook still has a great reputation in English theatre, despite his having been based in Paris for the last thirty years and so it is a rare treat to be able to see one of his productions. Le Costume is a play which first came to London with a South African theatre company in 1995 as The Suit.

With a tiny cast and a simple set Brook conjures up a graphic picture of life in the South African township of Sophiatown under the apartheid regime in the mid 1950s. We see people living at close quarters, with little or no privacy, where workers queue for the bus, where they strap hang on the way to work and to the shebeens, the bars where they spend their leisure time drinking and gossiping. Brook gets special performances from his actors taking on several parts so that a cast of four create the impression of a bustling and crowded township.

The tale is of Philomen (Hubert Koundé) and his wife Matilda (Tanya Moodie). Introduced by an old man, the tall, lanky, grey bearded Maphikele (Sorigui Kouyaté), the scene is set with his description of Sophiatown. One day at work, Philemon hears that his wife is having an affair, so he hurries home in the middle of the day and catches her in flagrante. Her lover, (Cyril Guei) escapes out of the window but leaves, beautifully arranged on a chair, his suit and tie. Philemon then devises a bizarre punishment for his errant wife. He orders Mathilda to treat the suit as an honoured guest, serving it dinner, conversing with it and taking it out for walks. With this constant reminder of her adultery and her husband's lack of forgiveness, Matilda eventually dies of remorse and humiliation. Philemon regrets his actions but it is too late to save his dead wife. The story has an almost Chaucerian simplicity, a moral tale where the wonged becomes the wrongdoer.

This production is in French but with surtitles which distract your eye from the action. I found that I was able to follow most of the beautifully spoken language, even with my rather rusty French, and the mime element of the acting is of great assistance.

I especially liked Tanya Moodie's tender performance as the wife who longs to be a nightclub singer. In one poignantly humorous scene she dances with the suit and one of her arms bringing it to life as it embraces her. In another as prepares for a walk in the park, she dusts down the suit and turns the hook of the hanger to face front. It is all the more poignant when she dies because of her brave acceptance of her punishment.

This whole production is a celebration of the small, of what is possible on a tiny budget. Its many great moments include two men, donning different hats, to become a whole roomful of party guests. They enter again and again in different personae, through the portable clothes rack, which also doubles as bus shelter, bus and bar. I loved the performances from Guei and Kouyaté as the hatted, chattering women at Matilda's afternoon tea club.

The essential set is a carpet, two portable clothes racks, a blanket covered bed, a table and chairs. Ingenuity provides the rest. Brook's skill is in harnessing our imagination to enhance his production. Le Costume is on for just ten performances in London and then in Warwick for a few more. However, London will see more of Brooks as it has just been announced that his Paris production of Hamlet, in English this time, will be coming to London this year.

Editor's Note: During the summer of 1997 New Yorkers too had an opportunity to see The Suit -- also for an all too brief run. CurtainUp's Les Gutman was as enthusiastic about the play as Lizzie. To read his review go here

Written by Can Themba
Adapted by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon
French adaptation by Marie-Hélène Estienne
Directed by Peter Brook

With: Cyril Guei, Hubert Koundé, Sotigui Kouyaté, Tanya Moodie
Costume Design: Chloé Obolensky
Lighting Design: Phillippe Vialatte
Sound Design: Richard Fischler
Running time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7928 6363
Booking to 3rd February 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th January 2001 performance at the Young Vic, The Cut. London SE1
London Theatre Walks

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
London Sketchbook

Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from