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James Cowan reviews Peter Brook's '11&12'

Anyone who considers themselves in any way involved in the world of theatre has heard of Peter Brook. Most of those people will consider Brook a directorial genius. Very few of them will have ever seen this genius in action, at least recently. I wasn’t one of those lucky few, until this week when I got the rare chance to see how bloody marvellous he really is for myself. One can read countless rave reviews of Brook, and his many publications clearly state his modus operandi, but to see his players perform such a beautiful piece of storytelling is not be missed.

(BOOK TICKETS FOR ‘11&12’ NOW, ahem)

Based on Amadou Hampate Ba’s 1957 book, ‘The life and teaching of Tierno Bokar : The Sage of Bandiagara ’, this simply performed piece discusses trivial differences in doctrinal opinion, the ‘Truths’ that people live for, die for, and kill for.

It is a story based back in a time of French colonial Mali, when Hampate Ba was growing up in a town called Bandiagara where the village Sufi sage, Tierno Bokar (incidentally Hampate Ba’s real-life teacher) was embroiled in the argument as to whether a certain prayer should be recited 11 or 12 times. This ancient, minute, accidental difference eventually leads to civil strife, massacres, and confrontation with the French occupation.

Admittedly, the details were at times slightly hard to follow, but this could be down to a lack of knowledge on my part regarding the Quar’an and Islamic prayers. However, if I were to have a criticism it would be the slight occasional muddiness of translation.
Irrespective of the details though, the piece that is performed is thoughtful, quiet, and truly a feat of storytelling like one never hears in modern day theatre or film. Brook uses his 7 actors as they are supposed to be used, as players, props and multifunctional supports of the story, that continuously questions God, life, death and opinion. Not once do we, the audience, receive an answer to a single question but rather leave questioning the bigger things. For instance, there is a beautiful story, one of many morality tales used throughout by the various teachers, that tells of a group of butterfly inspecting a naked flame, like the butterfly we will never know the wondrous power behind the flame until it has ended us. There is no correct answer. 11&12 is full of moments such as these that filled me the quiet contemplative peace one would usually find in meditation or prayer, although to balance this there were also moments of laughter, injustice and violence.

The design was simple, stark, and sandy, this allowed the actors free reign to create whatever world they so pleased. Red and yellow dominated, with swathes of material used to create anything from a boat to a grave. It immediately transported me to Africa, which I suppose was the idea. This transportation however would have been highly unsuccessful if it hadn’t of been for Toshi Tsuchitori’s constant musical support that was very much the eighth actor. He sat on the stage before the show began and after the show ended, surrounded by various traditional ethnic instruments, and guided us along the story’s path with earthy, prehistoric, and sometimes dreamlike sounds.

As a virgin of Peter Brook, I attended this piece with high expectations, and these were certainly met. I left feeling at peace, as though I had been read a story that had instilled within me a thousand new thoughts, the main one being - that splittin hairs aint worth dying over. So with that in mind I will say that in my humble opinion you should see this show before it’s gone, but the final choice I will leave up to you.

Back soon Rioters! Jx

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