11 and 12 ****

It’s seems only poetic for me to have taken two weeks to contemplate my feelings towards Peter Brook’s production of 11 and 12.  After all, the play is all about contemplation and using reason to justify one’s emotional feelings towards something they feel passionate about.

11 and 12 is a mediation on how religion can influence a society.  An African Muslim community is uncertain whether a prayer should be recited 11 or 12 times.  This debate sees whole communities, even couples, split down the middle, and what may have started from a simple misunderstanding leads to violence, oppression and political manoeuvring.

And yet, the above description makes the production sound far more immediate and dramatic than the play actually is.  In fact, if I were to use one word to describe the production, the word would be gentle.  That’s the thing; everything is so gentle that it almost appears as if there is no plot.  It isn’t until you reflect back that you see that the strands have actually been woven with far more care than it first appeared.  Many have complained about the play being boring.  While I myself disagree, it is performed at such a leisurely pace that I can see why many would think this.

Of course, the biggest stumbling block is the anticipation wrapped around this.  11 and 12 is by Peter Brook, arguably one of the greatest and most influential theatre practitioners in the last 100 years (some would go so far as to say ‘ever’).  Brook’s work has a reputation for originality, theatricality, creativity and innovation, and he is behind some of the most important work to hit Western Theatre for some time.  And while there is no denying the utter skill in the creation of 11 and 12, it is by no means earth shattering.

It is, however, still awe-inspiring.  With the use of a live musician and an ensemble of seven, the play spans decades, continents and has scores of characters, all played on a set that is both simple yet beautiful and contains numerous images that are gentle yet impossible to forget while being lit with light that almost feels more like paint.  Along with his designers, Brook’s work here is masterful.  He doesn’t have to be flashy to be meaningful.  He is in complete control and yet does not have to constantly remind the audience of this.

Two weeks later and I still vividly remember many things, too numerous to mention.  This is a production that didn’t quite hit me when I saw it but has permeated my intellect and heart, and upon looking back I find that I am quite more fond of it than I had been originally.  There are numerous images from this that I will forever remember, and there are roughly half a dozen characters that I have grown to like, respect and admire.

11 and 12 may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is brilliantly executed.  And while I wasn’t overly beaming about it when I left the Tramway, I find that it still haunts me, and probably will continue to do so for some time.  Like the most pertinent of religious teachings, it is upon reflection that the spirit of the lesson comes forth.  I’m glad I experience the play, even if many feel as if they’d been cheated.

Run at the Tramway has ended.


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