The Prisoner (3 stars)

The Prisoner

Mediocre theatre from a renowned director

Peter Brook's reputation as a director is not based on his recent productions, but his revolutionary past. His decision to abandon a successful career in British theatre to travel the world in search of other stories led to the success of the Mahabharata in the late1980s, but later criticism that his attitude towards 'world performance' smacks of colonialism is sadly justified by this tale of incestuous desires and punishment. Quite how Brook managed to place a white male narrator on stage as a framing device without noticing how it embodies the paternalistic and patronising appropriation is a mystery.

The multi-cultural ensemble – all superb and measured – and the sparse scenography might suggest an abstract space where the story can partake of all cultures without being fixed into one, but it lacks the specific cultural context that would make sense of the familial conflict: the desire of a father for a daughter, or a son for his sister, is too easily hand-waved. The echoes of Kafka (a prison in the desert, a man waiting for something he cannot explain) and Sophocles' Oedipus (incest) appear to add depth but do not help to make sense of the story. When the narrator returns to the scene of the action, his vague shrug isn't the open-ended ambiguity of a man missing the point but a resigned acknowledgement that the story doesn't seem to enlighten any of the major themes of justice or domestic strife.

Ironically, this dull content is lent focus by the quality of the performers and the quiet confidence of the staging: Brook and his collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne present the action softly and the precise structure flatters the script and hints at a high seriousness of intent.

Run ended

The Prisoner

  • 3 stars

As resident company at the 2018 International Festival, the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord brings three contrasting yet equally daring works to Edinburgh. Peter Brook is among the most influential figures in international theatre, and one of the most important artistic figures in the past century. With a spectacular career…

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