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Review: The Valley of Astonishment at the Young Vic

Valley_326The human brain comes under dramatic scrutiny for the second time this year. Where Nick Payne's Incognito examined the sense of self this looks at memory and people with a condition called synaesthesia.

Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, it's based on real neurological experiments on synaesthetes who's sensory pathways work in union.  For example when they see letters they become images or sounds become colours.

Kathryn Hunter plays Sammy Costas who can easily memorise lists of random words or numbers with the aid of her synaethesia.

The format feels like a dramatic lecture. It is full of interesting information but whereas Incognito had its feet firmly in the drama camp with a rooted narrative and human experience, this feels like a lecture with bits acted out.

We only really get a hint of how this condition impacts on the lives of synaesthetes - "how do you forget?". There are hints  that Sammy's talents are exploited for entertainment but this is never fully explored.

It feels like 'Incognito-light' and while interesting it lacked something a bit more substantial. One of the synaesthetes is an artist who sees music in colour and therefore paints the music and when he draws out a huge broom-sized brush to demonstrate I was expecting a 'Red' moment but sadly not. 

I'm already struggling to remember the details, ironically, and it only been a few days since I watched this which I think says a lot. It's not bad by any stretch it's just not particularly remarkable.

The Valley of Astonishment runs at the Young Vic until July 12.


Kathryn Hunter played Puck in Julie Taymor's A Midsummer Night's Dream last year and Mr W appeared as Ariel in Taymor's film version of The Tempest.