Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Valley of Astonishment - The Young Vic


ONE of this country's most eminent theatre directors makes a welcome return to the Young Vic with a fascinating self penned piece on synaesthesia and the impact it has on peoples' lives.
The Valley of Astonishment has been written by Peter Brook and grew out of an earlier work focusing on memory, Je Suis Un Phénomène.
This production, which is being performed on the Waterloo theatre's main stage, is a 75-minute long performance from three actors and two musicians in which we delve into the lives of people who have synaesthesia - a neurological condition in which people find their senses blend together - for example, music has colour, words have pictures and numbers have flavours.
The central performance is that of Kathryn Hunter as ordinary woman, Sammy Costas, for whom synaesthesia results in an extraordinary capacity to remember sequences of numbers and words which she sees as pictures dancing in her mind.
We meet her when she is a reporter at the local paper. She has no need of a notebook because of her phenomenal ability to remember absolutely everything. Her news editor is so stunned he sends her off to see two neurological scientists who put her in for a series of cognitive tests.
They encourage her to see her abilities as a gift which can further her career and suggest a career in theatre which she eventually turns to. However after a while it all gets too much and she goes back to them complaining that she has so many things in her head she feels as though it may burst.
In asking for their help in how to get rid of all the information stored in her brain she sees it as more of a hindrance rather than a gift.
Her story interweaves with others including Macello Magni's one-handed magician who gets two people from the audience to help him in his tricks and Jared McNeill's jazz loving artist for whom music and colour are as one.
And although the subject matter sounds somewhat heavy, it is actually gentle, fascinating, touching and funny, thanks in part to the beautiful music played by Raphael Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori who sit on the stage throughout.
It is a beautifully staged piece with great performances from all those involved.

The Valley of Astonishment is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until July 12. Tickets from £10. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

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