With 450 characters portrayed by 86 volunteers from across Edinburgh (and one very good dog), The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other is practically as ambitious as experimental theatre goes. One certainly feels the sense of community built in Meredith Oakes’ translation of Peter Handke’s original work. As the audience approaches the Lyceum, they find themselves intermingling with the cast as they too are drawn towards the theatre, as though are coming in straight off the street. Similarly, once the play ends and the cast members mix with theatre-goers, friends and family in the Lyceum’s bar – all wearing matching t-shirts – one cannot help but feel that this production has truly built an enormous level of communitas for those involved.
The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other is, in many ways, the ultimate experiment in people-watching and, as such, challenges what constitutes a narrative. The cast simply walk from one side of the stage to the other but their physicality, their pace, and their use of levels – all of which are accompanied by music and other audio cues – tell the audience everything they need to know about these characters. Be it something as simple as someone going for their morning run, or a humble street cleaner struggling against the wind, or a disheartened football fan making his way home from the match, they all carry unique stories which the audience are privy to, even if they are mere snapshots.
Moreover, several characters reappear throughout, creating a serendipitous element to the performance. The audience begin to feel a genuine sense of attachment to these characters and it is nice to see some stories come full-circle by the end. Similarly, there are moments that break traditional concepts of time and place through the appearance of Abraham and Charlie Chaplin, which highlights the interconnectedness of the world. Unfortunately, this is not always successful as audio cues of gunfire or screaming feel out of place when matched with a group of people collecting parcels.
This is ultimately what stops from The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other being an awesome piece of theatre.While risks are taken, not everything succeeds. An attempt to break with the usual pace – instead slowing everything down to a crawl – feels misjudged, causing the performance to drag at points. Likewise, while it is refreshing to see a diverse range of actors of differing ages, races ad species taking part in the production, it is occasionally highly apparent who has previous acting experience.
Certainly, the scope and ambition of the production are to be commended, with the ending reveal of backstage and the number of props and costumes used being awe-inspiring; however, the final product doesn’t entirely succeed in its intent.