“A joy to watch”
Peter Brook famously said he could take an empty space and call it a bare stage, continuing: “A man walks across this empty space, whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” In a masterclass of simplicity that Brook would be delighted with, The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other is arguably very little more than several people walking across an empty space for the best part of 90 minutes, and the end result is nothing if not engaging throughout.
Inspired by an afternoon spent watching people come and go in a town square, playwright Peter Handke’s script transforms the actions of these normal people into a theatrical event, which is given new life here by directors Wils Wilson and Janice Parker, along with their community cast of over 90 (ninety!) Edinburgh residents.
The decision to use a large community cast works really well in bringing a sense of honesty and integrity to the action. These are people of all ages, backgrounds, shapes and sizes, with individual quirks that are celebrated on stage, but never embellished to make them ridiculous. Sure, there are some larger than life characters and a sprinkle of pizzazz to create some special moments, but the overall sense of realness conveyed by this piece makes it a joy to watch. Perhaps what’s most impressive though is how slick and deft everything is – one can only marvel at the intricacy that must go in to stage managing this huge cast and all their precise entrances and pathways on stage – it’s hard to spot a misstep anywhere.
Performed completely without words, this is a show that does ask quite a lot of an audience to keep with it, and Michael John McCarthy’s sound design and compositions are (excuse the pun) instrumental in creating a sense of wonderment throughout. His whimsical score facilitates a pleasing ebb and flow to the performance, as if you’re never sure if the music is leading the action or merely complementing it. There’s plenty of variety in the soundscape to punctuate different moods, yet enough consistency to keep it connected and grounded in some magical faraway place. Indeed, this is a production where all creative elements – from costume, design, sound, and direction (even the curtain!) – pull together towards a common goal, which manifests in a very high quality output.
In saying that, at almost an hour and a half in duration, this performance does verge on being too long and self-indulgent. In particular, the section where all performers cluster on stage feels like it should be the climax, but ends up being a surprisingly sloppy (in comparison to the rest of the show) and inconsequential few minutes, which peters out rather unceremoniously into more walking.
As a production that could easily be a rather bizarre lovechild of Samuel Becket and DV8, The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other won’t appeal to everyone. But for me, there’s just such a vibrancy to this piece that leaves you 100% rooting for everyone involved. I’d happily go again.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 1 June)
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