Robert Tanitch reviews The Valley of Astonishment at Young Vic, London SE1
“In order to make good contemporary theatre,” Peter Brook has said, “one must always look for a subject, which concerns everybody.” Brook, now 89, with Marie-Helene Estienne, explores the human brain. This is the second time he has done so.
The first time was in 1992 in his adaptation of Dr Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. His subjects then included visual agnosia and Tourette syndrome. His subject now is synaesthesia in which the senses are confused.
A woman has an extraordinary memory for words and figures. Every sound has a colour. Every colour has a taste. Every number is a person. The medical profession take an interest in her. So does a theatrical impresario. She becomes a “phenomenon” on stage only to find she cannot forget what she has remembered. She decides to give up the stage to work for the medical profession. Kathryn Hunter, last seen at the Young Vic, brilliantly, as Kafka’s Monkey, holds the stage.
Jared McNeill charms and Marcello Magni does card tricks to fill up the time. Valley of Astonishment was going to be made into a film but Brook could not raise the money. What is on offer now is a lecture for students of neurology rather than a drama for theatregoers. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat was far more varied and entertaining.