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CULTURE : Mystical wisdom; Tierno Bokar Warwick Arts Centre.

Byline: Terry Grimley

Tierno Bokar, which is receiving its only UK performances in Coventry, is billed as 'a theatrical research by Peter Brook'.

This documentary-style piece from Brook's Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, performed in French with English surtitles, introduces the life and work of the early 20th century Sufi mystic from Mali to a European audience.

Just as Brian Friel's Translations presented a counter-stereotypical view of Ireland's relationship with its English rulers, so this piece introduces an image of a sophisticated, philosophical Africa brutalised by French colonialism.

Born in 1875 in an area recently converted to Islam, Tierno Bokar had 400 pupils at the height of his fame as a religious teacher. But he died in isolation after his intervention in a seemingly trivial dispute over whether a prayer should be recited 11 or 12 times.

The piece is thereby a poor advertisment for religious dogma but a good advertisment for Bokar's embrace of tolerance and his willingness to entertain different points of view. One of his more memorable aphorisms was: 'There are three truths - my truth, your truth and the truth'.

The story is presented on an open stage marked out by various mats and rugs, and accompanied by the attractive African music played by two musicians. Sotigui KouyatA's portrayal of Bokar, more a personification than a performance, is wisdom personified.

These days Peter Brook's name has come to be revered to such an extent in theatre that we tend to approach his work in a spirit not unlike that in which Bokar's disciples approached their teacher. I hope it doesn't seem tasteless to suggest that this is actually rather a slight piece, albeit one which distils something of human charm and wisdom.

Running time: One hour 40 minutes (no interval). Until Sunday

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Sotigui KouyatA plays the title role in Tierno Bokar
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
Words:306
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