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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Carpet and Sand (Calamity Practice), at fortyfivedownstairs - 90 minutes, with no interval

Call it searching for creativity or a descent into madness. That is a matter of interpretation.


Carpet and Sand is a fanciful re-telling of a trip that English theatre and film director Peter Brook took with a group of actors through the Sahara Desert in 1972.


Among their number was Helen Mirren.


According to the presentation in Carpet and Sand, they had to cross seven valleys, which was challenging, to say the least.


At times, there was conflict among the actors, nor did they see eye to eye with the crew.

Photos by Harper Owen

Leading the expedition was Brook, accompanied by a journalist, who documented the trip.


Brook asked the actors to imagine they were birds and perform improvised pieces to local villagers.


Often that involved rolling out a carpet on whatever surface they found themselves, including sand (hence the title of the play).


One can only surmise what the villagers must have thought.

Talk about method acting. Funny stuff in Carpet and Sand.


One of the most hilarious aspects of the retelling of this story is when the troupe take on the role of sheep to reenact elements of the Great Sheep Panic of 1888.


That was when sheep across southern England suddenly and inexplicably burst from their fields.


Carpet and Sand dares to get into the mindset of the sheep as they run amok, suffering existential dread.


The eight-strong ensemble throw themselves into the tasks at hand with gusto.

I loved the variety in their performances, as the respective traits of their characters came to the fore.


The contention is that the journalist was “tripping” at the time just to agree to undertake such a bizarre journey.


Concurrently, Peter Brooks was triggering childhood angst.


To me the piece de resistance arrives when the playwright Robert Reid inserts themselves into the work.


In other words, they become an actor (introducing themselves to us, the audience, as the playwright) … and, I should add, they do a mighty fine job. Reid is a natural.

Outrageous, esoteric … absolutely. There is a lot of theatre of the absurd about Carpet and Sand.


My only reservation is the 90-minute running time. It could readily have been pared back.


To me, adopting a less is more attitude would have given it even greater bite.


Directed by Bob Pavlich, it is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 16th June, 2024.


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