11 and 12

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

10/03/2010 - 14/03/2010

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2010

Production Details

Iconoclastic Director Debuts His Latest Play in New Zealand

Legendary theatre director Peter Brook is currently in rehearsal with his latest work Eleven and Twelve ahead of its world premiere in Paris at the end of November, then subsequent tour to Poland and London then direct to the New Zealand International Arts Festival in March.

“It is hard to imagine that New Zealand has not yet seen a production from Peter Brook, one of the finest directors and innovators of stage and screen. It is indeed a privilege to bring his latest work to these shores,” says Lissa Twomey, Artistic Director of the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

Eleven and Twelve is based on the true story of Sufi mystic Tierno Bokar, written by Amadou Hampaté Bâ about his real life teacher.

French-ruled Africa in the 1930s is shaken then torn apart by colonialism and internal strife. A tiny disagreement over the meaning of the number eleven as opposed to the number twelve results in a series of tragic events that link a small African village to the highest political decision of the Second World War.

For more than 35 years Brook has been based at the Bouffes du Nord Theatre in Paris where he founded the International Centre for Theatre Research, a multinational company of actors, dancers, musicians and technicians. Last year he decided to resign as Artistic Director and will hand over to Olivier Mantei and Olivier Poubelle in 2011.

Born in London in 1925, Brook’s contribution to world theatre is unmatched and the list of his collaborators is a who’s who of 20th century acting greats including Sir John Gielgud, Sir Laurence Olivier, Ben Kingsley and Patrick Stewart. He introduced Glenda Jackson to the theatre in 1962. His famous productions include Hamlet with Paul Scofield, Marat/Sade, Oedipus with John Gielgud, and The Mahabharata.  His book The Empty Space about the theatre is highly influential. 

Brook has received numerous major awards and distinctions including Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the Legion d’honneur and the Companion of Honour. Last year he received the Critics’ Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. 

WHEN:  10-14 March 
WHERE: St James Theatre 

“Britain’s greatest director has pulled off one of his most densely spiritual creations to date.”“..Any production from Peter Brook, one of our greatest modern directors, is sure to be a wonder to behold.” The London Times 


The Financial Times (UK) 

1hr 25 mins, no interval

Failed to fire

Review by Lynn Freeman 18th Mar 2010

Peter Brook is a legendary theatre director. 

He made his name with his 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a three sided white box set with ladders for entrances and exhibits and the fairies as acrobats and jugglers.

It seemed to set free the imagination of directors everywhere and allow them to take risks. New Zealand has waited decades to see one of his productions. But while I was hoping for something visionary, like The Arrival or 360, we saw a quiet, meditative, intellectual and worthy piece of theatre about great topics like colonisation or religious fanaticism.

Unfortunately, for all these qualities and all these possibilities, Eleven and Twelve failed to fire either the imagination or on an emotional level. It’s hard for any director or actor to conjure up the sense of wide scale death emanating from a religious disagreement over the number of prayer repetitions, with a handful of actors.

The all over the place narration did not help us either. This is not Brook’s finest work, but theatre is unquestionably a more exciting place for his involvement in it.
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Political theatre at its most quiet

Review by Mark Amery 13th Mar 2010

11 and 12 travels to New Zealand carrying a lot of cultural baggage. Ironic given that over forty years ago director Peter Brook arguably revolutionised the British stage with the concept of the empty space.

In terms of baggage not only has it taken this time for a Peter Brook production to come here – hence building quite a mystique – there’s also this work’s long gestation through several other works in Paris, and the fact that it’s an English translation of a French adaptation of an African writer Amadou Hampaté Bâ’s own autobiographical writing – drawing on the complex politics and spiritual divides of early 20th century French colonial administered Mali. [More]

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Loses its sense of purpose

Review by John Smythe 11th Mar 2010

Way back in the 1970s I was lucky enough to see two landmark productions directed by Peter Brook: his black box ‘circus’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC, with Alan Howard’s Oberon on a trapeze, and The Conference of the Birds, based on an ancient Persian poem and developed during his fabled African sojourn (with a young Helen Mirren included in the multi-cultural ensemble cast).

I still recall the seismic shift the latter caused in western theatre. We were already breaking the bounds of conventional drama and challenging the status quo; Brook in many ways led ‘the establishment’ into riding the ‘alternative/underground’ groundswell into respectability. But it was The Conference of the Birds that reconnected us with the primal roots of storytelling and theatre’s role in revitalising ancient wisdoms in our own quest for enlightenment.  

Am I expecting too much, then, of 11 and 12? I wouldn’t have thought so, even if Peter Brook is 85 now. If ever we needed a play that threw light on the apparently unstoppable phenomenon of religious wars, tribal massacres and sectarian violence that litter our news media every day, it is now. And who better than Brook to play midwife to a play sourced from the true life experiences of Sufi mystic Tierno Bokar?

The set is redolent of The Conference, with its earth-red stage cloth, sky-red backcloth and stylised tree trunks, although here it is not ‘in the round’ but framed within the proscenium arch of the very conventional St James theatre. A cluster of Eastern musical instruments, downstage left, promises live music – and so it transpires, from composer Toshi Tsuchitori: a variously vivid and subcutaneous soundscape for the story.

The well-publicised premise is that a difference of opinion as to whether a prayer should be recited 11 or 12 times escalates into – or primes the pump of – hatred and violence in French colonial Africa. I had wondered if it would be an absurdist satire like The Gods Must Be Crazy but no, this play and production takes itself very seriously, although it is not without humour.

There are stories within stories. Initially Tunji Lucas, in the role of Amkoullel, acts a narrator as the process by which the 11 prayer format accidentally became 12 is acted out by the ensemble cast. Later the narrator function will be randomly distributed, disspating any sense of authorial perspective.

Meanwhile the Sufi mystic Tierno Bokar (Makram J Khoury) uses a sand-pouring ritual to discover and appoint Cherif Hamallah (Khalifa Natour) as his ‘true tutor’ successor, although Hamallah says it is too soon … Being teachers, “Let me tell you a story” prefaces many a fable told to illustrate a point and make us ponder.

The French administration – characterised as two-dimensional bastards no matter who wears the jackets of office – has its own ideas about who should teach what to whom. And for them the status quo is 12, so anyone suggesting a return to the original 11 comes to be seen as an enemy of the state.

Nevertheless the 11s and 12s manage to coexist, happily tolerating each other’s beliefs, until “the teapot incident” …

Now let me be clear: I am very happy to accommodate the leisurely pace, punctuated by very occasional bursts of more lively action, sometimes comical, sometimes violent. I appreciate the simple ways such things as a boat are created. And there is plenty of time to consider, objectively, what is unfolding … so I can’t help wondering, about half-an-hour in, how credible this ‘teaching tale’ can be when women have no status in its universe.

Mothers, wives and children do get mentioned but they have no involvement in ‘the important things in life’, whether it is ruling the state, seeking enlightenment or teaching wisdom. The only significant female character to physically appear is the wife – played somewhat for laughs by one of the seven male actors – in ‘the teapot incident’. She wilfully and vengefully manipulates the situation in a way that foments distrust and bitterness between the 11s and 12s.

While this form of theatre is devoid of ‘get it’ moments (probably regarded as being too manipulative of the sincere and worshipful theatregoer), I think – on reflection – that the play is suggesting the escalation of hatred and violence is caused by two things: the divide-and-rule tactics of the French administration, and the inevitability of the disempowered, disenfranchised and downtrodden taking their anger out on something relatively innocent.

This is reasonably clear when it comes to the ethnic majority and religious minority, and I suppose one could apply it to the women too, except because they have no ‘real’ presence in the play, it’s just an academic corollary.

It is also interesting to note that those in power seem to be the most angry of all, and although we might have all sorts of theories about that, the play doesn’t begin to explore that – perhaps because that would mean humanising the ‘baddies’ (which most modern dramatisations do so that we can see the potential for evil within ourselves).  

We are left, then, with this steadily rolled-out story punctuated by tales of snakes, hyenas, moons and butterflies, and towards the end someone asks, “Where is the truth?” Exactly.

What seems to start as investigation into one of the more imponderable aspects of human existence drifts on, in its final stretch, to simply dramatise the late life, death and burial of Tierno Bokar, which is somewhat beside the point. It loses sight of it theatrical purpose and wanders back into the biography that inspired it.

Put it this way: when it comes to revitalising ancient tales in the light of today’s world, Indian Ink’s The Guru of Chai is infinitely more insightful, profound, provocative, enlightening and (therefore) entertaining. And as socio-political and poetic theatre, Juliet O’Brien’s The Letter Writer is much more powerful.


Sunny Amey March 15th, 2010

Was it the Emperor’s New Clothes?  Paul Bushnell nailed it absolutely today on Jim Mora.

After last night’s damp squib opening [of 11 & 12], a friend said ruefully to me, ‘I so wanted to be engaged by it.’

“Darling!” I said “I wanted to be married to it, but there wasn’t a relationship!”

[Note: Technology stopped this being posted in a timely fashion, but it's still worth putting on the record - ED]

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There is Brook’s truth, your truth and the truth

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 11th Mar 2010

Since the 1960s Peter Brook has been searching for the essence of theatrical performance. 

His fervid dedication of almost monastic severity has led him to question centuries of accumulated theatrical practices, beliefs and shibboleths.

The results of his search, which he has written about in a number of highly influential books, have been expressed with the simplicity and the complexity one usually associates with an Oriental spiritual text.

However, everything he has written about is based on his explorations and experiments in numerous stage productions, which he prefers to call ‘recherché theatricale,’ the most famous of which are Orghast, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Marat/Sade, The Conference of the Birds and The Mahabharata.

11 and 12, his latest work based on the writings of Amadou Hampate Ba and his teacher, a Sufi philosopher Tiemo Bokar, is highly topical in that it deals with fanaticism though it is a true story set in 1930s Mali then under French colonial rule.

It all centres on a small dispute over whether an Islamic prayer, the Pearl of Perfection, should be repeated 11 or 12 times. The dispute escalates, massacres occur, many are imprisoned by the French colonial government which backs one side against the other which it treats ruthlessly.

It is a tale told with child-like simplicity about the need for tolerance, the need to hold onto one’s own truths and respect others’ truths, or as Tierno Bokar says at one point “There is my truth, your truth, and the truth.”

A multi-national cast of seven male actors play all the roles which they present boldly, and, in keeping with the overall style of the production, with quiet dignity and simplicity.  The lighting of the almost empty stage is breathtakingly beautiful, while the playing of Toshi Tsuchitori’s music and sound effects at the side of the stage is exquisite and masterly.

However, all this stripping away of superfluous human and theatrical details that might get in the way of the essential story and its message and the calmness and simplicity of the dialogue and the playing of nearly all the scenes at much the same tempo and volume has a soporific effect.

It also brought to mind the ponderous and sanctimonious religiosity of the biblical epics that Hollywood used to make back in the 1950s. At the end the lights did not dim and there was a long silence before anyone dared applaud. It was like being in church, which is where, of course, theatre started.  
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