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The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other

Published 17 April 2008

It takes a brave director and theatre to stage a play that runs for an hour and a half with absolutely no dialogue. But the National Theatre and James Macdonald have done just that, bringing Peter Handke’s The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other to the Lyttelton stage. Matthew Amer joined in with the spirit of the production and sat silently in the first night audience.

Sitting in the auditorium for the Lyttelton’s new play is much like sitting at a quiet café, watching the world go by… if the café looked out onto a square dominated by vaguely building-shaped grey monoliths, frequented by the normal, the abnormal and the downright absurd.

A cast of 27 plays over 450 characters who wander through the square, bringing multicoloured life to its drab environs. Old women with all the time in the world shuffle from one corner to another while firemen practice a drill with contrasting urgency. Businessmen stroll through the square, briefcase in hand. Joggers jog. So far so normal.

Yet among the hustle and bustle are slightly stranger sights. It is not everyday that Puss In Boots gets frustrated when no-one will engage him in a sword fight. Nor is it a regular occurrence in a city square for Tarzan to swing by or for pensioners to fight with walking sticks.

It is odd to describe a location as the protagonist in a production, but in this case it is true. Everything that happens, happens to the square. While flashes of the many characters lives are glimpsed, they are rarely more than 30 second snippet, their before and after left to the imagination while someone else strolls off the street. As people pass through they leave debris and detritus, their marks on the square which grows with their involvement but is never-changing and ever-present. Human life goes on while the world around it merely sees its effect.

The large ensemble cast, comprising many National Theatre regulars, works extremely hard to produce an eclectic set of characters, and create a world and a culture that is real yet unreal, grounded yet absurd, normal and always surprising. Christopher Shutt’s sound and Mel Mercier’s music are key to creating atmosphere in a world devoid of language.

I fear that after enjoying The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, people watching on the South Bank will never be the same again. em>MA

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