Warum Warum, Bouffes du Nord, Paris

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The Independent Culture

Peter Brook's latest production completed a short run at his Parisian home-base behind the Gare du Nord on Sunday before resuming its touring life in Budapest this week, and then on to Germany, Armenia and Italy.

As it is unlikely to visit Britain in the near future, it is worth reporting that Warum Warum ("Why? Why?"), a solo for the remarkable German actress Miriam Goldschmidt, a regular in Brook's companies since his defection to Paris in the early 1970s, is a fascinating, if slightly bizarre, addendum to his ongoing enquiries into the very nature of theatre itself.

The unnamed actress finds herself alone, for no reason, in an empty theatre. Why is she there? And what should she do? Theatre is a dangerous drug, she says, so be careful... but then, in a moment of magic spectacle that only Brook can conjure from literally nothing, a functional chair whizzes at high speed on castors into the middle of the arena.

Like the character in Beckett, she must go on. The lights change. A door frame materializes from the wings in the great vermilion glow of the peeling walls of the Bouffes, a theatre as crudely evocative and enchanting as it must have been in its music-hall days; it's certainly been an unchanging echo chamber of dreams, nightmares and epic voyages of discovery these past 35 years.

Brook himself, now 85, but hardly slowing down, is easing himself out of the Bouffes administration, but continuing to work there. Paradoxically, for one contemptuous of theory, he's been working for years on various texts of the great masters, and several are represented here in a script compiled by Brook himself and Marie-Hélène Estienne: Artaud, Craig, Meyerhold and the medieval Noh Theatre philosopher, Zeami Motokiyo.

It boils down to an hour-long crisis in confidence, expressed with unerring assurance. Hilariously, the actress wants to know how to laugh on the stage, and how to perform melodrama while conveying an essential truth.

Simply dressed in a trouser suit with a long flowing scarf, her black hair flying in bunches of tight-knit curls, Goldschmidt makes something moving and primeval out of very little, accompanied by a musician playing on what looks like two woks sealed together and making the sound of a muffled steel drum.