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The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other review at Lyttelton National Theatre London

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It’s not easy spending an hour watching people you know nothing of – and 105 minutes is even more demanding.

Experimental European writer Peter Handke’s 1992 creation is a play without words, but unlike Matthew Bourne’s production of that name it is also one without an overarching story or recognisable characters.

Hundreds of random passers-by walk, run, crawl, cycle and rollerblade across a nondescript town square, in an epic undertaking that at first has the appeal of a Cartier-Bresson painting brought to life.

There’s a sense that all human emotion and experience can be distilled into these 30 second journeys – whether it’s vanity in the skateboarder who tries desperately to regain his cool after toppling over, or despair on the face of a businessman who reaches breaking point in an embarrassingly public way.

That universality and timelessness is underlined with the addition of various mythical and religious figures such as Moses, who wander in the midst of the banal and extraordinary as naturally as fellow shoppers.

But potentially touching moments are too laboured to be truly poignant – a girl crying juxtaposed with the laughter of teenagers playing hide and seek, for example – and Handke too often relies on cheap visual gags – female office workers kicking a football in heels, pensioners fencing with their walking sticks.

Forty-five minutes in, the novelty of people-watching has worn off, the hunger for a narrative is gnawing at you and even an apocalyptic climax can’t fill the void. At least if you watch the world go by in the NT cafe, there’s coffee to keep you going.

Production Information

Lyttelton, National Theatre, London, February 13-March 5

Author
Peter Handke
Director
James Macdonald
Producer
National Theatre
Cast includes
Susan Brown, Jessie Burton, Pip Carter, Paul Chesterton, Lisa Dillon
Running time
1hr 45mins
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