Studio Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre
Opened 9 February, 2006

I can say little about this production in general; however, the performance I attended proved a horribly graphic illustration of the limitations of Peter Brook’s theatrical aesthetic.

On a black stage, bare save for an ordinary black wooden chair, longtime Brook associate Bruce Myers entered unobtrusively, also in black, swathed in a long greatcoat. For ten minutes or so he set the scene for this self-contained extract from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: Christ has returned to Seville at the height of the Inquisition, been arrested and now appears before the Cardinal Inquisitor. So far, so Brookian: the atmosphere formal yet unadorned, in line with the idea that sharing a story is both an important and a natural experience. Likewise Myers’ delivery: measured, unfussy, assured.

A few minutes in, he paused, turned to the chair and picked up a large black volume in which “the Cardinal” had seemed to be making notes earlier. Evidently, this was in fact a prompt copy of the script. He found his line with an admirable lack of fuss: no shame, no concealment. By the third or fourth time, however, it began to distract; by the tenth or twelfth, it was clear that Myers’ memory of the main body of the 50-minute piece had disintegrated. He would stop in mid-phrase, or try, pause, refer to the script and correct himself. Hardly 90 seconds went by in this phase without resort to the book. And, bare as Brook’s staging and Myers’ delivery are, the actor’s agony was equally naked. It was impossible to concentrate on Dostoevsky’s densely argued text, in which the Inquisitor forensically dissects the Messiah’s actions and lessons. Sitting directly behind and above Brook as I was, I could see that, although ready to take directorial notes, he wrote not a word, but seemed like the rest of us simply to be willing Myers to make it to the end of his and our purgatory. For when the simple shared experience of a Brook production goes wrong, we all partake of the failure. For the brief epilogue Myers recovered his memory, but this merely allowed him to exit with a shred of dignity.

I know from previous outings that Myers is an immensely capable performer. I fervently hope that whatever afflicted him on this particular evening is banished by the time the production visits the Barbican; for I would wish such excruciating torment on no-one, performer or audience.

[FOOTNOTE: For further context, see review of the subsequent performance in The Pit.]

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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