THE VALLEY OF ASTONISHMENT
by Peter Brook and Marie Hélène Estienne.
Young Vic 66 The Cut Waterloo SE1 8LZ To 12 July 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm (except 23 June 7pm) Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 June at Warwick Arts Centre Coventry.
Simple means evoke the astonishment of the far from simple mind.
For years Peter Brook’s productions have interwoven the mystical and the playful. His latest work has a carpeted area, a storytelling space, surrounded by unused rooms suggested by arrangements of chairs. A wooden hat-and-coat stand, also unused, might refer, with wry theatricality and thematic connection, to Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne’s The Man Who, based on cases of unusual psychologies in Oliver Sacks’ book ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’.
Brook links that production with this examination of synaesthesia, the involuntary perception by some individuals of one sense as another. It also considers, in its main story, a form of autism.
No-one suggests intensity and mystery better than Kathryn Hunter, playing a slight, printer’s-ink stab of a journalist who loses her job – strangely – because of her phenomenal memory, and goes on the halls for a living.
Hunter captures the ability to reel-off lists of random words or numbers from memory, her character explaining she perceives them visually or translates them into familiar images. (Numbers of people try images as mnemonics, the trouble for most being remembering the memory-aids.)
She shows the ability is functional not intelligent. A non-Italian speaker, she recalls uncomprehended lines from Dante through images verbalised in her own language. Her repeating of randomly alternating ‘black’ and ‘white’s keeps the right order, but without the original speech rhythms.
Yet alongside the mystery of her experience (and of others, more briefly seen) and Hunter’s extraordinary way of containing experience in her voice and expression – the only time she is less than compelling is when acting only the surface of life – Brook incorporates a sizeable section of literal play, with Marcello Magni’s one-arm card-trickster.
It’s a cunning strategy. Magni proves a skilled magician, his faultless prestidigitation suspending disbelief so Hunter doesn’t have to do the impossible and remember words and numbers flung at her, demanding the performer match her character.
Wonder, through theatrical simplicity, ends the show as musician Toshi Tsuchitori seats himself centrally to create a woodwind flurry, born from and subsiding into, the stillness of a single long note, like the activity of life itself.
Cast: Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni, Jared McNeill.
Musicians: Raphaël Chambouvet, Toshi Tsuchitori.
Directors: Peter Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne.
Lighting: Philippe Vialatte.