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Published on Wednesday, 17 August 2011

3 stars

Paradise in Augustine's (venue website)
6 Aug, 8:20pm-9:35pm; 8-14, 16-21, 23-28 Aug, 8:45pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Lee Zhao

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

The message of 11 is uncontroversial enough: killing another human is wrong, as is incitement to hatred. But time and time again humanity seems to forget that. 11 weaves together stories in the backdrop of three of these occasions: two world wars and 9/11. And the harrowing slideshow at the beginning of the musical warns us that this journey isn't going to be a happy one.

11 is a professional production, and it shows in the quality of the acting and singing. There are some genuinely moving moments, and times where I thought breaking into song would be wholly inappropriate, but was quickly proved wrong. Ian Hammond Brown has written some wonderfully emotive music and lyrics; my highlight is the trio in a New York café that's absolutely charming and yet at the same time, a damning condemnation of the Western apathy towards Third World poverty.
I also particularly enjoyed the way the cast used the full extent of the space available to them, and the fluid transitions between the stories as the actors seamlessly moved between costumes and characters. This successfully allowed 11 to tell its multiple threads in parallel and powerfully combine themes that recur throughout each story.

So I was not very keen on the sections that break the flow of the narration, when the cast abruptly stop to directly address the audience. There's something quite ironic about a song that preaches in unison about the dangers of propaganda, as well a false equivalency between Nazi propaganda and the missing WMDs in Iraq.

But the ultimate problem with 11 is that all the stories have very obvious endings, and have been told countless times previously. There's a soldier in the trenches waiting for the order to advance, the Jew in the extermination camp, the children playing during the Blitz. The modern day couple in New York may not be so clear, until you glance at the programme and realise their names are Riq and Sheza and you recall the heavy 9/11 imagery in the introductory slideshow. It could have been the best part of the story, with the potential to be the most original, but sadly ended being disappointingly formulaic.

Yes, there were a few thought-provoking moments, like the transition between the Tommy in the trenches to the SS officer, each writing home to their loved ones. Yes, I admit the themes are intriguing, but that's all 11 ends up being: themes. The overall musical lacked focus and didn't seem to know what it wants to say, except for being a general call for peace on earth. It's brooding, it's sombre, but only one story out of four managed to truly engage me and leave a lasting impression.

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