London playgoers are currently buzzing about the National Theatre's new production of Austrian provocateur Peter Handke's play The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, a wordless, 100-minute panorama of 27 actors playing over 400 characters who pass through a public square in real time. The show has gotten nice reviews, but the Guardian's theater blogger Lyn Gardner is underwhelmed. In a post today, she dismisses the show as too reverent of its text and wishes that it was staged outside. Instead, it's "tucked out of sight and out of mind in the Lyttelton theatre, something potentially dangerous rendered entirely safe and anodyne because it is hidden away in a production that treats the piece as a slightly uneasy and knowing joke."
Interestingly, Gardner compares the show unfavorably to a stunt that occurred this weekend in Trafalgar Square, in which between 500 and 1,000 people suddenly froze in place at 3:30 in the afternoon. New Yorkers will recognize this as the handiwork of local pranksters Improv Everywhere, who staged a similar event in Grand Central recently, and indeed the "Frozen London" event, though not an official IE "mission," was organized through the troupe's new IE Global social-networking site.
The Improv Everywhere agents we know have always taken pride in their pranks as artworks as well as comic coups, so they have to have their hearts warmed by Gardner's awed response: "Freeze in Trafalgar Square trampled the lines drawn between spectacle and spectator, theatre and real life, public and private, performance and protest, and reclaimed the streets for ordinary people." In that light, Gardner writes, Handke's play "is hardly experimental. Indeed, it looks rather old hat when placed against the endless imaginative possibilities of theatre that spills out onto the streets." Yikes! We like Improv Everywhere and all, but you have to think that getting your enormous London play slagged off in favor of an improv troupe's seventh-best prank of all time must sting a little bit.