"the hour we knew nothing of each other" (peter handke)
from a new translation by Meredith Oakes
Associate Director...……….Jonathan Burrows
Set Designer…………………Hildegard Bechtler
Costume Designer…………Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer………….Jean Kalman
Sound Designer…………….Christopher Shutt
Lyttleton, until 12th April 2008
For a moment, a bright, empty town square.
And then a figure darts across, and another and another – businesspeople, roller-blades, a cowboy, several street-sweepers, a half-dressed bride, a film crew, a line of old men, a tourist, a beauty in a mirrored dress, Abraham and Isaac, a family of refugees, a fool – more and more people, the bizarre and the humdrum, fleetingly connected by proximity alone.
This play without words is theatre to set the imagination on fire.
this was a rivetting show - the stories upon stories beside stories within stories out of stories you got hints of as person after person just walked across the space - different walks, different rhythms, different places they were coming from, diifferent places they were getting to, different paces.
and then the mad moments -
~noah with his tablets,
~abraham with isaac and a knife then returning with isaac and happily not the knife,
~a queue of people waiting to post letters with one woman trawling through the ring tones of her phone,
~a series of elderly men limping their way across in a succession of increasingly unlikely different guises - academics, farmers, fools... a fool who mocks everything and everyone until he is left bewildered with the man he has mocked while he died.
ordinary people. improbable people. fictional people. familiar people. and while they knew nothing of each other we - the onlookers - grew fat minds thinking, imagining, believing we knew more and more of these people.
james macdonald on making (directing) "the hour we knew nothing...
very enlightening and what a lovely man.
here are some of the quotes i grabbed from him from the post-show discussion:
"i tried to leave space for every actor to try out any bit they wanted in the spirit of inquiry rather than competition... i cast it without allocating parts, and every actor plays the same amount (some play less characters because their character returns)..."
"...we tried it out in workshop with dancers who were great, but you need great actors who know how to take on a character and tell a story... "
"... i decided very early that i wouldn't ask the actors what story they'd made for their characters - if they decided they needed a story..."
"...the rehearsal was discovering how much of the story to tell [each time] - there are 400 different stories - the biggest decisions were getting the right rhythm, pace, pause, holds..."
"...this has been the most exciting challenge in terms of working on the detail...it starts very natural. then it's like a set of dance moves with people doing repeated practised actions. then it is something else... handke wants to wake you up to experience the next bit - he believes the truth is in the detail and is very scathing of all generalisations..."
"...it moves you around geograpgically - [globally as well as around the space] - the stage is the world...there are 17 different sections, altho handke doesn't number them. the characters "know nothing of each other" for about an hour of the time and for the rest he imagines what might happen if they do become aware and connect with each other..." (this of course is then exploded and they are back to the not knowing again)... "
"what makes it different from watching the film from a fixed camera pointed at a city square?
Peter Handke is what makes it different"
Peter Handke on The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other
From an interview with Sigrid Löffler for Profil, May 1992
Your new play is totally silent and its protagonist seems to be a square across which people walk. The play is called The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other. What's behind this strange title?
the trigger for the play was an afternoon several years ago. i'd spent the entire day on a little square in Muggia near Trieste. i sat on the terrace of a café and watched life pass by. i got into a state of real observation, perhaps this was helped along a bit by the wine. every little thing became significant (without being symbolic). the tiniest procedures seemed significant of the world. after three or four hours a hearse drew up in front of a house, men entered and came out with a coffin, onlookers assembled and then dispersed, the hearse drove away. after that the hustle and bustle continued - the milling of tourists, natives and workers. those who came after this occurrence didn't know what had gone on before. but for me, who had seen it, everything that happened after the incident with the hearse seemed somewhat coloured by it. none of the people milling on the square knew anything of each other - hence the title. but we, the onlookers see them as sculptures who sculpt each other through what goes on before and after. only through what comes after does that which has gone on before gain contours; and what went on before sculpts what is to come.
In your play somebody suddenly falls to the ground and dies. The dead man is carried away and replaced immediately by merry wanderers who know nothing of what went on before. A beauty struts across the scene, idle tourists go by, lovers embrace each other, skaters flash past, Papageno appears dressed in feathers with his birdcage on his back.
Yes. Papageno quite casually wanders by – one thing flows to the next. it’s not supposed to be heavily laden with meaning or in any way didactic.
But why Papageno?
During two weeks of working last summer I worked myself into such a concentration that I observed far more than would naturalistically be perceivable. the more you observe the more hallucinatory it becomes. so I could allow myself mythical excursions. all of a sudden Moses arrives with the tablets of stone on his way back from Sinai.
Or Peer Gynt peeling an onion.
Yes, one doesn’t know if this is hallucination or reality. something quite dreamplaylike occurs when the remnants of these myths, which we still carry within us, briefly become visible. whilst watching this square it seemed to me that, along with the modern pedestrians, the presence of these inner images, these archaic pictures could be sensed. only for seconds.
And nobody talks. All is silent.
I didn’t want any of the figures to solidify into what one calls a ‘role’. every actor should embody many little procedures. I wanted these procedures to play off each other, sharpen and sculpt each other. nothing more. at one point I wrote myself into a rut. the procedures headed towards a climax and it threatened to become dramatic. people on the square stopped circling and gliding. all of a sudden they all stood still.
And presumably this is the point when they would like to talk?
Yes exactly. and I thought: for god’s sake, what happens now? now they’re waiting. the waiting builds up a pressure. someone must talk or this will run the risk of becoming dodgy mime. somebody is going to start talking. I broke the knot with force. the way you break a Gordian knot.
Because this was supposed to a wordless piece?
It’s something that had been on my mind for over fifteen years. I just had to write a play in which no one talks. that appeals to me as a spectator. I would like to see something like this.
From a conversation with Peter von Becker, May 1993
In your latest play The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other you obviously had great fun inventing [lots of] stories again … without having to finish them completely.
that was my starting point: I wanted to begin stories, keep beginning them! without ever stopping them. bringing things to an end is the most difficult thing, this is a secret of getting old. listen to the people outside when they tell each other things: they never know when the time has come to finish. I’m also noticing that I have difficulty with jumps ion narration. that’s the most important thing. begin the story – and then immediately carry on telling it somewhere else. and I thought I’d really like to succeed in this, and maybe this is just right for the theatre: to sketch out a story in bold brushstrokes and then immediately move on.The piece will probably be reborn with every new space, with a different design and the constellation of characters. It offers great openness.I like the fact that this is neither a particularly deep nor flat piece. it simply exists. is there much to discover in it? I don’t know. in any case there is nothing behind it (laughs) that can be seen as a relief. and this is accompanied by a sense of dreaming: the myths. I always connect what is going on in my heart or head to the myths. maybe this play is an attempt to recapture a sense of the myths. because they will never totally vanish: but where are they hiding at present? (laughs)
Fairy tale king, biblical figure or office clerk: there seems to be a complete democracy between the people in The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other…
…and so everybody has the right to appear: everybody from every time or place. even those from allegories or myths.
that is very important. they are all equal. while one person is still describing his opr her path, another operson has already come forward from the background. the one person sculpts the other. there is no such thing as one person on their own: by somebody having inhabited the space before, the next person’s appearance gains contours.
Where did you find the foreword to The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other the lovely sentence from the Oracle of Dodona: “Do not betray what you have seen. Stay inside the picture”?
(laughs) I invented that!But you once travelled to Ioannina in the north of Greece and to Dodona. It’s a really secluded and mysterious place.five years ago I walked from Ioannina to the oracle-site of Dodona. it was mid-winter and one of the most glorious days of my life. apart from a small amphitheatre and the remains of the oracle, there are some oak trees. these have been replanted. the voice of the oracle was said to have come fro the wind rushing through the oak trees. I can well imagine that, since the sound of the wind on the dry oak leaves is very eloquent.
Handke’s Working Notes for the Play
25 June 1991
the old man drags himself across the square, and then comes to a rest in the middle.a child who looks everyone in the face from below.the wondrous gently raised square in front of the palace in Versailles.
26 June 1991
a quick succession of scenes, now and then overlapping each other: like the tugging of the girl in the bus’ sleeve by another girl, then their communal parting outside, smiles all around them.(Bus 39, Guyancourt – Versailles)
28 June 1991
the square becomes a clearing with a green shimmer. ‘fantastic clearing’, the correct definition would be: the clearing allows the mind to fantasize.
30 June 1991
movements that correlate with the light and expanse and stillness and rustling of the clearing/square, and become a dance (like voices which in the evening become consonant with the rustling of the garden).the adult sits on the child’s knee.
2 July 1991
the people who are crawling, pulling themselves along the ground, jumping, clearing hurdles out of their way, like dogs being trained.another title for the piece would be “at a distance”.
3 July 1991
the mystery of someone who is just standing there. has he always been there? will he go? - someone who, from start to finish, just stands there.meeting one another as if in front of the wailing wall. stretching one’s legs in front of it.someone who does not know distance always steps intimately close to the other.
4 July 1991
an actor who, whilst walking, plays a different race, an extraterrestrial.
5 July 1991
communal, decidedly patient waiting; one companionably joins the hitherto solitary other figure.the hour we knew nothing of each other? the day we knew nothing of each other? that very day …? that very hour…?
11 July 1991
waiting at an airport; the people waiting who fall in love with one another; the transformation of the people waiting by the arrival of the awaited.
12 July 1991
the crossover from the reality of that perceived at daytime, to the inner eye, the daydream, the memory, the imagination, the fantasy, and back to reality again.such a mute spectacle can only have an open end.the rotation the earth describes, during the hour of the people walking; the image that by the end they have circles the earth.the old man, licking an ice cream.
13 July 1991
a vagrant who, in the middle of the stage, pulls out a magnificent fan and fans herself some air.a moment in which the square becomes the introductory square to a bigger square.
14 July 1991
someone as if he were being led to the gallows.someone is swallowed up into the ground, and not one of his companions notices this.the square as arrival/as in-between stop/crossover/no man’s land/kissing-the-ground paradise.the invisible square within the square.and the clearly fragmentary as one of the essences of the piece.end: the spectators leave jubilantly; lift off with a sudden flurry.stay at eye level; look eye to eye.the regularity of the action, despite all variation; suddenness as symmetry.visualising the space between the spectator and the actor, or: the space around the actor; this space as matter; the “hunched” spectator, not dissimilar to Rodin’s Thinker.do not forget the BIG WAY of looking at the ‘whole’; but also the little airy banalities.
15 July 1991
the person racing, calming down when approached by another racer.
18 July 1991
the futile guest leads to the finding of something other: wonderment.
Fragments from Handke’s prose . . .
He decided that the others should not have a story, in the same way that he himself had not story; only in this way could he bear other people, in fact it was only in this sense that he could properly start perceiving them and feel a desire to describe them. Only without a story did they etch out their contours, and the landscape around them opened up and they were unshackled from constricting anecdotes (I will never write a ‘text’, a ‘story’, a ‘moral tale’, a ‘mirror image’, not even a ‘poem’; so what else is there? - A narration that transforms empty space into energy and sustains it.)
I have always sensed that the possibilities of the theatre are limitless, that there is always another possibility beyond what I have thought of.
For me there is no codex as to how a play should be written, and therefore it is easy to get out of control. Since there are no scenes, acts and no one story – one has to guard oneself against randomness. These things of mine balance on a tightrope.
In order to write I need: silence – then excitement – and then collected calm, and that same procedure with every sentence. And without this triad I can’t bring a word to paper.
Whilst writing I have to be as quick on the uptake, agile, cunning and resourceful as when seducing someone.
Writing plays is difficult for me because my starting point is never a theme, but rather a sort of investigation. I want to investigate something, I never know what this is beforehand.
I never want to be guilty of repetition.
The audience must have an experience! Observing and looking into themselves. Observation is the most beautiful contribution ever.
Space, time, centre and form.
These are the things I am after.
I can only write unplanned stories.
And that is fitting for these times.
When from within the wondrous daydream a structure starts emerging – that’s where my personal thinking begins.
In my work concentration – forceful concentration – is often wrong. In order to achieve something I have to allow my mind to wander and at the same time must be attentive in my distractedness. This is a sort of a game with your own consciousness: you seemingly give it a free rein, and then suddenly catch it when it thinks it is free.
Everything that comes to you when fantasising is correct. Everything else contains the danger of invention. Believe yourself, even if it was outrageously fantastical – especially if it was fantastical.
I can only see myself through my work.
I can only think through my work.
From here onwards we will walk, not drive.
In all of these vehicles there exists no departure, no change of scene, no sense of arrival.
Whilst driving, even if it is me who is steering, I’m never fully with it.
Whilst driving, my innermost self is not present.
Whilst driving, I’m reduced to a role which runs contrary to my nature: in the car, that of a figure caged behind glass, on the bike, a handlebar-clutcher and pedal-treader.
Walking. Treading on the earth. Both hands remaining free. Relying on your own momentum.Driving and being driven only in an emergency.
I’ve never been to the places to which I was driven. It is only though walking that the experience becomes tangible. Only whilst walking I spin around with the apples on the tree. Only the walking person grows a head on his shoulders. Only the walker experiences the balls of his feet. Only the walker feels a train thundering through his body. Only the walker can hear the sound of the trees – Silence! Only the walker catches up with himself and is at one. Only the walker’s thoughts are legitimate.
We will walk.
The time has come to walk!
Whenever I have experienced arrival at any place, for instance on the mountain top, this was always accompanied by the feeling that I cannot stay. I can only pause, for a brief while, and then must continue, until maybe I can pause again briefly. For me existence has always been something that is experienced fleetingly.
A day in a strange city: from the attic room to the bakery; from the bakery to the living room; from the living room out on to the street; from the street to a bench by a children’s playground; from the bench under a tree (heavy rain); from the tree to the museum; from the museum onto the street; from the street into the telephone box; from the telephone box to the café; from the café to a church; from the church to the underground to the cinema; from the cinema to the attic room.
After the experience of art this desire to walk, to walk, down by the river, to continue walking.
Peter Hanke’s work
The Representative, 1963 (documentary drama)
Offending The Audience, 1965-68 (protest play)
Slow Homecoming, 1979 – 1981 (prose)
The Long Way Round, 1981 (dramatic poem)
Wings of Desire, 1987 (film)
The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, 1970 (novel)
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, 1972 (novel)
The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, 1992 (play-without-text)
“I have only one theme, to achieve clarity, or to achieve greater clarity, about myself, to know myself or not to know myself, to learn what I do wrong, what I think wrong, what I think unthinkingly, what I say unthinkingly, what I say unthinkingly, what I say automatically, what others too do, think and say unthinkingly: to become attentive and to make others attentive: to become and to make others more sensible, more sensitive, more precise, so that I and others too may exist more precisely and more sensitively, so that I may communicate better and consort better with others.”