Magazine article The Spectator

French Farce

Magazine article The Spectator

French Farce

Article excerpt

French farce

Le Costume

Young Vic

The Taming of the Shrew

The Globe

Le Costume is a masterpiece directed by Peter Brook. No, I'll rephrase that. Le Costume is directed by Peter Brook and it's not a masterpiece; it's a whimsical and clumsy little folk-tale performed in French by an all-black cast. That's more like it.

Westerners won't admit it but they tend to approach ethnic theatre with a goodly dose of didn't-they-do-well condescension. I glanced around the stalls and saw many a pink Hampstead matron going misty-eyed with surprise and joy. There are two difficulties with this show, as any dunce can see. First the story. Philemon catches his wife, Matilda, with a lover. The lover legs it out of the window leaving his new suit on the chair. Philemon takes revenge on his wife by obliging her to care for the suit as if it were a guest in the house. She must keep it spotlessly clean and go through the motions of serving it dinner and hanging it in the cupboard afterwards.

This flimsy-but-unusual idea might lead somewhere interesting in the hands of a more imaginative writer. Instead, the plot ambles off into irrelevances. Matilda joins a music club and pursues her dream of becoming a famous singer. The suit is forgotten, as is the lover. Then Matilda has a party. Then she dies. That's it. End of show. Theatre closing. Everybody out. This measly storyline is padded out with a few song-and-dance routines and a moderately entertaining piece of mime, but it's far too threadbare for a night at the theatre. The characters are wafer-thin and charmless. And even Sara Martins, who plays Matilda with exceptional grace and charisma, is squandered.

To guarantee our dissatisfaction, the director has vandalised an essential custom of the theatre. He mingles straight drama with indirect narrative: thus one minute the characters are speaking dialogue, the next they're describing their thoughts and feelings in the third person. This decision is gauche, childish and bonkers. The programme notes speak proudly of Peter Brook's 'strong iconoclasm with regard to traditional stage practice'. Well, fiddle-de-dee. I think he's just misunderstood the nature of an artistic convention.

A convention is an enabling tool, a servant, an instrument of understanding. …

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