Brook's new play, the first of his I've seen, deals with Colonialism and its attitudes, faith, and, to a certain extent, the meaning of life. Although many of the all male cast are youthful, at the heart is the notion of the legacy or inheritance a prophet leaves behind.
The stagecraft has the light touch one would expect from the master of the empty space. Yet, it's also obvious that imaginative gestures which were breathtaking thirty or forty years ago, have now become commonplace. The simplicity that Brook unearthed has become integrated into a mainstream, if not always at the level of the big budget theatres, certainly within any T.I.E. show, or international touring piece. The likes of Cheek by Jowl, Goold, Meckler to name but a few, have all taken on board Brook's ability to play with realism and space, creating an alternative theatrical universe, and what was once new is no longer.
The play itself explored both the notions of faith and French colonialism in early 20th century West Africa. The seeds of key conflicts of today are apparent within the text as it probes a localised, pre-emptive clash between mystical Islam and Western values. The audience at the Barbican seemed only barely engaged. All of us had come to pay homage; listening to the play's words was a secondary exercise. Some of the dialogues about the nature of faith and the meaning of life became abstract, and hard to follow. More than one punter dozed.
At the end, the actors left the stage. The lone musician, surrounded by his tools, let the music still. The audience sat in silence. No one knew if there was another trick up the director's sleeve, or if this silence was all that remained. The silence held. No one knew what to do. The uncertainty contained a kind of magic. It's the simplest of devices but all the same, after treading water for an hour and a half, suddenly we were in at the deep end, having to take responsibility.
The applause, when it arrived, was fulsome.