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Images: Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

POSTED: 08 JUNE 2010

11 and 12, by Amadou Hampaté Bâ, adapted by Marie-Hélène Estienne; directed by Peter Brook

Theatre des Bouffes du Nord & Sydney Theatre Company | Sydney Theatre | Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 13 June

“There are three truths: your truth, my truth and the truth. No one owns the truth.”

They’re the sort of sage words that you’d expect from a sage, in this case Tierno Bakar, the Sufi maestro from early-20th-century Mali ... someone who dropped many pearls of wisdom during Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord’s wonderful production of 11 and 12, presented in conjunction with Sydney Theatre Company for its only, all-too-short Australian season.

Penned by the Mali-born writer Amadou Hampaté Bâ, adapted by Frenchwoman Marie-Hélène Estienne and directed by Peter Brook, one of Britain’s greatest theatrical practitioners, 11 and 12 is a play that can be viewed at a number of levels and from diverse perspectives.

At its superficial core are the profoundly detrimental effects of bullying French colonial rule on African village life, and the unfathomable stupidities of religious dogma, demonstrated by the seemingly innocuous, but ultimately quite deadly, question of whether a particular prayer should be chanted 11 times or 12 times.

But at the real core is a much more resonating, more universal aspect of human behaviour — the lack of tolerance that leads to so much misunderstanding, hatred and, ultimately, strife and misery. It’s about the same fear of the unknown that produced the Pauline Hanson phenomenon.

The cast of seven actors, who between them successfully and mostly quite brilliantly play a diversity of roles, is as multicultural as you could possibly wish for: Antonio Gil-Martinez (Spain), Makram Khoury (Palestine), Tunji Lucas (Nigeria), Jared McNeill (USA), Khalifa Natour (Palestine), Abdou Ouologuem (Mali) and Maximilien Seweryn (France).

Hélène Patarot’s costumes are a treat, and Philippe Vialette’s lighting makes wonderful use of the Sydney Theatre’s stage — a stage that really is enormous when it’s stripped back to bare necessities and so frugally adorned with just an orange carpet, some sand and a few stylised trees and shrubs.

Most credit, though, must go to Japanese musical director and instrumentalist Toshi Tsuchitori, who has put together and performs an absolutely sublime score that evokes everything required — haunting, vibrant music that lifts an excellent dramatic work into the realms of the extraordinary.

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