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A CurtainUp London Review
The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other
People start to cross the square, some hurrying, some sauntering, an old doddery person struggles with age, suddenly there are many people, a lone abseiler drops in on a rope, some firemen practise their drill for unfurling their hosepipe, a dejected football fan weighed down by defeat, a roller blader speeds across, a man doubled up under a pile of rugs so we can only see his legs, a cowboy with a whip, two laughing girls. A great wind whips up some sheets of newspaper which revolve and float in the air.
A uniformed group walk in with their hand luggage, they are air crew, followed by the stewardesses as they wait for a colleague, a boy or a childlike man imitates them, at first pretending to fly a plane and later mimicking the daily routines of the cabin staff in serving drinks and explaining where the emergency exits are. We are amused and enthralled by this celebration of the variety of human life and the diversity of our human existence. Girls in office suits and high heels play football and Tarzan swings in on a rope. Then comes the continuous parade of elderly men, they merge into a procession of academics in mortar boards and academic dress, then in panama hats carrying sheaves of corn and fruit, then of old soldiers in blazers and berets like a veterans day march. These men are stiff with age and each walks differently. We realise that behind the scenes there must be furious changing for them to emerge changed in costume with such regularity and to remember to stay in elderly character.
The programme reproduces an interview with Peter Handke where he describes the inspiration for The Hour That We Knew Nothing of Each Other, an afternoon he had spent sitting on a square in a little town near Trieste. He was alone with a bottle of wine and started to really observe. "After three or four hours a hearse drew up, men entered and came out with a coffin, onlookers assembled and then dispersed, the hearse drove away. After that the hustle and the bustle continued, the milling of the tourists, natives and workers." Handke realised that he was seeing the entire life of the square, fitting the images together in his head but that each group were unconnected, knew nothing of each other, hence the title of the work.
I haven't been so blown away by mime since I saw Slava's Snow Show at a dramatically impressionable age. The Hour that We Knew Nothing of Each Other is simply enthralling theatre, brilliantly executed and I cannot understand why the run is so short. As we ponder on the title and look for meaning in the images of people without words who nonetheless convey so much of their personality in how they move, we are struck with wonder.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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