After the hotly-debated Three Kingdoms and the much-maligned Babel, the latest production in the World Stages London Festival (strapline “world stories for a world city”) is Peter Brook’s reworking of his previously lauded production Le Costume.
Translated back into English, this adaptation of Can Themba’s dark allegorical short story is surprisingly light and breezy.
The simple narrative is straightforwardly told. Loving husband Philemon (William Nadylam) returns home one morning after a tip-off to discover his wife Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) in bed with another man. The lover flees, leaving behind a suit that Philemon uses to humiliate his wife and exact a strangely masochistic revenge.
The action, played out on a space chillingly framed by clothing rails, is studded with jazz standards and African spirituals that both serve to highlight Philemon’s singing talent and natural beauty and ramp up dramatic tension, especially in the climactic party scene where she is forced to serenade her guests and then dance with the suit(or).
Among those watching this cruel spectacle are several cajoled members of the audience, a touch that some will no doubt enjoy but I found distinctly uncomfortable. It's not the only questionable staging element - having the male cast members dress as women may get easy laughs but feels puerile in this context.
Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy - not least Kheswa’s sublime vocals - and Brook’s production (a collaboration with Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk) makes up in charm what it lacks in substance.