Writer: Peter Handke
Translator: Meredith Oakes
Directors: Wils Wilson and Janice Parker
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
How connected are we to one another’s stories? Not at all when we really think, the hundreds, thousands of people we encounter are just extras in our own tale. So, when we truly sit back, soaking in the æther around us, we allow them to cross our paths. Peter Handke’s The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other was first performed in 1992. An epic of mime and movement, the repetitious acts of day to day life mingle with the past in this translation by Meredith Oakes.
Too many cooks can spoil the broth, though somehow the collective of 86 cast members complement each other, balancing hundreds of characters. The entire medley of human society is presented before us: vagabonds, hikers, chefs, nobility, rabble along with the fantastical. An undisclosed sequence of time occurs across Fly Davis’ set, the ‘town square’ of Handke replaced with a more bustling corridor motif.
Meaning doesn’t need to be mined from every production one sees. In truth, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other merely elevates people-watching from pastime to artistic experience. An overarching narrative is not the intent of this piece, instead hundreds of differing breadcrumbs, loose ends and tales are stretched before us. None with a complete beginning, middle or end. As in life, we are passing ghosts through someone else’s story.
Handke however, can be accused of slinking in a few thematic tropes. Primarily, our numerous cast member’s duck, weave and graze off one another: all seem grounded. Unyielding, masterless and free in reality and time. Both flux amidst the bustle. The utter paradox found in recognisable figures of history – mixed with those of scripture, fiction and religion, is fascinating. From Moses’ deliverance of the Commandments to the Huntsman serving Snow White’s ‘heart’ in the glass case. Victorian London glides side by side with present age children, all the while an Egyptian burial sequence is underway.
Just as the Reaper is carted offstage, a character struck down whilst lovers rekindle. The brutality, neigh honesty presented before us, is what makes Handke’s piece work regardless of silence. Wils Wilson and Janice Parker communicate more in this revised interpretation, however. Still, at its core the same text, sequences have been changed whilst keeping the humour. New inserts have been added to draw us into a recognisable world. Refugees, smartphones and effigies of orange skinned Presidents.
Pacing, however, is the one folly with Wilson and Parker’s direction of the production. In particular, at first, a powerful segment, darkly constructed, referencing the passages of time is a little too on the nose. Its gravitas lifts somewhat as the minutes distinctly fall into what feels like decades.
As the chorus of Edinburgh’s community departs, the final illusion is broken, witnessing the vast array of props, costumes and set pieces used in crafting tonight’s work. The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about ourselves, nor of those around us. Yet it can move us with the simple concept of a thousand stories, all in one book: Life.
Runs until 2 June 2018 | Image: Aly Wight