Back in the sixties and seventies, Peter Brook made a major contribution to the world of theatre, not only as a director but also as the author of the influential book The Empty Space.

But that was a long time ago, and although the veteran director (he’s now halfway through his eighties) may have made a lasting impact, the more recent productions I’ve seen have proved far from exciting, let alone groundbreaking.

His current venture (a touring international co-production) looks lovely, its West African setting subtly evoked against a black background by atmospherically lit strips of coloured carpet, carved leafless tree trunks, and a few props scattered in the sand.

But the account of a doctrinal dispute in the 1930’s which arose over the precise number of times a religious prayer should be recited, proceeds at the pace of a meandering snail.

Based on the life of the Sufi guru Tierno Bokar as described in the writings of his Malian disciple Amadou Hampate Ba, the production intentionally refuses to inject much energy into the account of the violent feud which, ironically, resulted from an act of intended courtesy and which the French colonials in charge failed to control.

Makram J.Khoury as spiritual leader Tierno delivers his gnomic utterances with a knowing twinkle and the grace of a truly wise man, and the other half dozen members of the multinational cast move smoothly in and out of various roles to the accompaniment of on-stage musician Toshi Tsuchitori.

But there’s too little substance in the material or variation in tone in Brook’s characteristically simple staging and as a result this meditative plea for tolerance – no matter how pertinent – fails to truly engage.



Barbican, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS (020 7638 8891) to 27th February (£10 – £35)

Pic: Pascal Victor ArtComArt