The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other

Jun 2 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Contains multitudes

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thurs 31 May–Sat 2 June2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Dizzying in its invention and almost ludicrously ambitious in scope, The Hour we Knew Nothing Of Each Other at the Lyceum is undoubtedly uneven but always intriguing.

Peter Handke’s dialogue-free play, in a translation by Meredith Oakes, features hundreds of characters flitting across an unspecified town square, indulging in behaviour both resolutely everyday and decidedly outré.

Valerie Murray in The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other. Pic: Aly Wight

This production, credited to a ‘community chorus’, features a cast of nearly 100 members of the Edinburgh public – although there is a suspicion that there might be a couple of ringers in there.

If this is not the case, then the shell-suited clown should certainly take his mimicry and outstanding falling over to the professional stage. The same is definitely true of the street sweeper, whose hangdog fulfilment of his Sisyphean task displays outstanding stage presence.

Not that the rest of the cast are poor. On the contrary, apart from a couple of isolated moments when a surfeit of self-consciousness takes over, the huge parade of characters is presented with drive, commitment and skill. Directors Wils Wilson and Janice Parker have marshalled the huge ensemble brilliantly, with large swathes of the production being constantly inventive and surprising.

Even apparently uninhibited events require great discipline. Even for such an inventive director as Wilson and such an experienced movement director as Parker, to produce this result from so many relatively inexperienced performers is nothing short of extraordinary.

disorienting ride

The collisions between daily events and characters with figures from history or myth make for a disorienting ride. Fleeting appearances from the likes of Abraham, Chaplin or an Egyptian mummy are amusing enough, but the more quotidian events disturb more.

Alexander Hope and Darren Hope in The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other. Pic: Aly Wight

Working on the time-honoured soap opera principle – that if it could happen, it can be included – a bewildering variety of events takes place. Just as you would struggle to get insurance in Walford, you would not want to be around wherever this takes place, due to the alarming level of street crime.

The constant invention is given a sound backing by Michael John McCarthy’s sound design, mixing folksy accordion and electronica. Fly Davis’s set copes admirably with more entrances and exits than the Lyceum will generally see in a decade, while Kai Fischer’s lighting is hugely effective.

Bridget Innes, Suzanne Mathison, Edna Wilson, Cari Mannion, Eileen Henry in The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other. Pic Aly Wight

With nearly 100 performers playing almost 500 parts, costume designer Jen McGinley must have been stretched to the limit but responds superbly, while whoever is in charge of the logistics of the costume changes deserves a medal.

However, this is one of those 90 minute straight-through shows that is all the rage, which does mean that it flags a little. A long, slow passage that suffers the most from the awkwardness mentioned earlier tests the patience. A sequence where the cast finally come together is far less compelling than what has come before, degenerating into self-important and wilful absurdity.

Moira Berry in The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other. Pic: Aly Wight

When it strains after the symbolic, the play starts to fall apart. In the end, it is the elements that refuse to have any significance beyond themselves that resonate. It is the accumulation of the smaller moments that is most effective, with its depiction of disparate individuals and their hopes and fears, their joy and despair.

This conjures up an elusive feeling of community that is entirely appropriate for such a production.

Running time 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 31 May – Saturday 2 June 2018
Evenings at 7.30 pm. Matinee Sat at 2.00 pm.
Information and tickets:

See preview: The hour of inspiration for interviews and further images.

The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other cast. Pic: Aly Wight



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