Review: The Valley of Astonishment, Young Vic

“How can one forget?”

I’ve often been guilty of saying ‘oh I could listen to her read the telephone book’ about any number of the actresses I love and if you’re a fan of the strange enticing melody of Kathryn Hunter’s voice and fancy listening to her reciting a load of numbers, then you (and me) are in luck. In The Valley of Astonishment she plays Sammy Costas, a woman with synaesthesia – a neurological condition that manifests in sensory confusion – and something of an eidetic memory which proves as much of a blessing as a curse as an attempt to exploit it in a variety show backfires.

And gathered around her are other stories from people with the same condition, snippets from other lives and the ways in which they have invariably learned to cope which are interwoven into the progression of Sammy’s narrative although in all honesty, I felt they added little. Peter Brook’s name inspires a hushed reverence in many but if someone were coming to him for the first time with this production, it is hard to imagine that they would be equally inspired for it is a rather dry treatment of what is an endlessly fascinating subject.

With collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne, they have contrived to devise something that only really flickers into life intermittently, mainly when Hunter is the focus. Marcello Magni and Jared McNeill do sterling work as the near-inscrutable doctors fascinated by Sammy and also as the subsidiary characters (although the card-trick sequence was a low point for me) but the production merely skates over the surface rather than delving below, leaving it feeling sadly inconsequential and not even the evocative efforts of onstage musicians Raphaël Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori can fill this valley with astonishment. 

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Simon Annand

Booking until 12th July

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