In the Valley of Astonishment – reviews of Peter Brook show

Jun 26, 2014

Brook charms critics with 'sublime' and 'spellbinding' drama about the mysteries of the brain

Simon Annand

What you need to know

Peter Brook's new stage show In the Valley of Astonishment has opened at the Young Vic, London. The production is co-directed and co-written by the legendary 89-year-old director, famous for his experimental theatre works, with Marie-Helene Estienne.

Like his earlier work, The Man Who..., which was inspired by the writings of Oliver Sacks, In the Valley of Astonishment explores the mysteries of the brain. It tells stories of people with mental anomalies, from a woman with an extraordinary memory, to a man who sees colours in music, and another who can only control his limbs by looking at them. Runs until 12 July.

What the critics like

Peter Brook's latest work is a "spellbinding" mixture of charm, curiosity and moments of deeper feeling, says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. And it's fascinating to see this famously highbrow director clearly relishing the showbiz elements, from jokes to card tricks.

"Brook's minimalist production unfolds with a sublime lightness of touch," seamlessly shifting mood from impishly playful to ineffably sad to life-renewingly mystical, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. There's an attentive respect for humanity and its irreducibility to brain chemistry.

"The show is staged with minimalist beauty," maturity, calm and aesthetic grace, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. A simple set, effortless acting and music all underscore the quiet astonishment at the miracles of the human brain.

What they don't like

Despite the poetry and music "this feels like elegantly conveyed case studies rather than a fully realised work of the imagination", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. These are sensitive, witty, and stylishly staged anecdotes that don't seem to become more than the sum of their thought-provoking parts.

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