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A CurtainUp London Review
11 and 12
by Tim Newns
A basic yet fundamentally important story follows a French ruled colony in West Africa in early 20th Century. The local people are in dispute as to whether a certain prayer should be said 11 or 12 times. What follows is a lengthy debate as to the effects of intolerance and ignorance to other cultures and practices that inevitably lead to violence and further isolation.
Full of charm, Brook's production never strays from a gentle almost meditative state. We are never attacked or shocked into questioning the significance of what we see. We are gently rocked into submission, to perceive in a calm and intellectual manner. We very quickly understand that tolerance is the theme.
Brook's own style is a clear tool in testing our tolerance, as this is theatre that is beautifully slow and exact, and is not to be recommended for one who favours the more dramatic flair. It is to be highly recommended however, to any student of theatre. Brook displays the skeleton of the story telling process clearly. It is theatre in the making, theatre that perhaps will engage you on a more intellectual level than emotional but nevertheless manages to strike a resonant chord at the very core of our moral and to some extent, our religious beliefs.
In the vast, yet strangely intimate space of the Barbican Theatre, the representational set is the epitome of the barren, West African countryside. A square red cloth to show the deserted landscape is combined with warm and beautifully yellow lighting designed by Philippe Violatte that strongly invites us into the space.
Special mention must go to Brook's long time musical collaborator Toshi Tsuchitori who provides effective and rhythmic live backing music with a variety of curious and fascinating instruments some of which I am ashamed to not even know the origin of. It is a pleasure to watch him at work. The excellent cast are from a variety of backgrounds, they switch between playing different roles effortlessly and persuasively. Makram J. Khoury in particular plays a local "wise man" and religious tutor with deep humility and grace.
After the Barbican the production proceeds onto a National tour. With times as unpredictable and harsh as they are, this soft reflective production is the perfect therapeutic experience.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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