Peter Brook writes in the programme for his new show at the Young Vic “If we go to the theatre, it’s because we want to be surprised, even amazed.” And that’s exactly what this little play does. The Valley of Astonishment looks very unassuming from the outside: the set is sparse, decorated only with a few wooden chairs and a coat stand and the cast is comprised of just three actors. But appearances are deceiving. This play is all about the internal and something truly special bursts from very little.
Similarly from tiny actor Kathryn Hunter – who plays mnemonist Sammy Costas – comes a surprisingly powerful voice. She is a phenomenon, the doctors (Marcello Magni and Jared McNeill) declare. We follow her journey into her own ‘Valley of Astonishment’ as she tests the limits of her mind first with wonder and then with fear. Her touching performance is by far the highlight of the show but strong support is offered by Magni and McNeill as sympathetic doctors and a whole host of other characters with interesting stories that Brook and Estienne lightly, but delicately, explore.
And just when the audience get comfortable, Peter Brook proves that he always has something else up his sleeve to astonish the audience with a funny card trick scene featuring audience participation, or beautiful musical interludes from talented instrumentalists Raphaël Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori, or a light show to demonstrate the effects of synaesthesia.
The Valley of Astonishmentgets deep inside your head which is, I suspect, exactly what Brook was aiming for. A fascinating theatrical insight into the wonders of the human brain.