11 and 12
Adapted from the works of Amadou Hampaté Bâ by Marie-Hélène Estienne and Peter Brook
Co-commissioned by barbicanbite10, London; C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris; Grotowski Institute, Wroclaw
Northern Stage, Newcastle, and touring
British and European theatre, African storytelling and music from various parts of the world meet in Brook's empty space to produce ninety minutes of theatrical magic which left the Northern Stage audience stunned and silenced before breaking out, after an appreciable pause, into enthusiastic applause.
The essence of 11and 12 is simplicity on the surface - in its set, form and performance - but great depth in the ideas evoked by its text.
The set consists of simple orange matting, a little sand, some star-shaped logs, three "trees" (quotation marks because they are suggestions of trees, representations rather than re-creations) on castors which can be moved wherever required, a chair, and, along the back wall, a suggestion of hills or mountains created by red fabric carefully folded on the stage. Moving the trees, logs and chair creates a myriad of different scenes. A swathe of red fabric becomes a boat. Effective and minimalist.
It tells a complex story, mingling a division leading to open warfare within the Sufi order over whether a particular prayer should be repeated eleven or twelve times (and we see the totally innocent beginning of that dissension) with the life of our narrator, Amadou (Tunji Lucas), from childhood through to working for the colonial French authorities. The pace can best be described as thoughtful and the warfare is only seen in one brief but hugely shocking scene. Brief it may be, but its effects permeate the piece.
What is central to the piece is the idea of tolerance, of the struggle against prejudice and hatred, here exemplified by Sufi teacher (and our narrator's teacher) Tierno Bokar, played with quiet dignity and wisdom by Makram J. Khoury. And, of course, although the story is set around the time of World War II, it resonates hugely today in a time when religious intolerance is as fierce as ever. The fact that the cast and creative team are international - from Spain, France, Britain, the US, Palestine, Jerusalem and Mali, with an on-stage musician from Japan - serves to underline this theme.
Thematically important and relevant and presented in a form which is very different from standard British theatrical fare, 11 and 12 should not be missed.
The production's final stop on its tour is at The Rose, Kingston.
Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Barbican
Reviewer: Peter Lathan