Friday, February 15, 2008

The Horizontal Hour (And A Bit)

It was always going to be an opinion-splitter: Peter Handke’s The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other.

If you’re reading this, chances are you probably know the basics: 450 characters, 27 actors, and no dialogue – though there is a fair bit of humming, clicking, yelling, screaming and sobbing, just no talking.

I was surprised by how much I got out of this. Yes, it was frustrating at times, it was tedious at times, but I still found myself engrossed in it, the rhythms, the swings from the familiar to the mythic. A thousand tiny stories. Walking through Waterloo station on the way home had a new frisson, I found myself watching people’s gaits, the striders, the slouchers, it made me smile.

There were parts I had trouble with certainly. The yellow tank-topped figure soon started to grate on me and I thought some of the comic moments were too forced. I certainly found the braying laughter that greeted the sequence when a line of old people shuffled across the stage in various guises rather unsettling. Surely this was more poignant than hilarity-inducing? I don’t know. Anyway there’s a far more intellectually rigorous discussion about the piece going on over here and the West End Whingers’ review is, of course, worth a read, that goes without saying.

I had gone along to the National with my friend Simon, a man who knows much about Handke and was even carrying a copy of the original text so he could assess the new version (apparently Mickey Mouse features in the original, one of many omissions.) Simon’s profile of Handke written in adavance of the production is here, if you’re interested. I’m quite taken with the idea of the companion piece: Journey to the Sonorous Land or The Art of Asking, which, in stark contrast, is all dialogue, most of it nonsensical, a sea of words.

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