Review: The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, National Theatre

Featuring 450 characters played by 27 actors with not a word spoken during its 100 minutes running time, The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other is certainly an eyebrow-raiser and an experience, but is it really theatre? I’m still not sure. A Peter Handke play, although presented here by Meredith Oakes in a new translation which has caused a fair bit of mirth considering there’s no talking, so perhaps a new ‘interpretation’ might have been a better way of describing it?

In terms of what happens, well a lot passes by on stage but equally nothing actually happens. People walk, run, skip, jump, limp across the stage in various guises, some dressed as recognisable figures, most just regularly clad, and tiny little stories are played out during their journeys from one side of the stage to other. Life, death, tragedy, sex and lots of comedy are on display here and it is fitfully awe-inspiringly good, especially when there’s the stronger narrative arc that engages the attention, like the terrorist attack towards the end.

It ends up being a funny mixture of things: it is wordless but there’s loads of sound effects so there’s rarely any true silence; it sets itself up as a people-watching exercise, but there’s no attempt to remove the theatricality from it, one never forgets one is sitting in the Lyttelton and indeed the mind boggles as to what the backstage area must look like and the speed needed for all the changes.

So ultimately an interesting experience, but one which I only found occasionally really good. Maybe it is to do with the banality of much of everyday human existence but not a lot of it stuck in my mind no matter how well it was presented here. And please don’t ask me whether I think it is theatre or not!


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