Peter Brook, one of the crucial modern and admired theatre administrators of his time, whose stage work had a strong symbiotic relationship with the visible arts of the previous 75 years, has died, aged 97.
Brook’s multi-layered profession was made up of almost 25 years as an modern, typically iconoclastic, determine within the business theatre of London, and half a century as a Paris-based magus of worldwide theatre. He was a grasp of collaborative, experimental productions and his 1985 adapatation and staging—throughout 11 hours—of the traditional Sanskrit epic The Mahābhārata was one of many nice mind-expanding and world-touring creative experiences of the late twentieth century.
The London-born Brook made his identify as a rising star of British theatre within the late Forties. In his early 20s, he was already directing productions on the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford—the place he staged a Watteau-inspired 1946 efficiency of Love’s Labours Misplaced—whereas, from 1947 to 1949, he acted as director of productions on the Royal Opera Home in Covent Backyard, London. Within the latter position, he made headlines by commissioning designs for stage and costumes in 1949 from Salvador Dalí, for a brand new manufacturing of Richard Strauss’s one-act opera Salome. Brook believed that Dalí was the one artist able to capturing the “erotic degeneracy of Strauss’s [music] and the imagery of Oscar Wilde’s [story]”. The manufacturing had a succès de scandale, however it was an expertise that neither Brook—pissed off by the conservative nature of the Forties opera world—nor the opera home wished to repeat, and Brook’s contract was not renewed.
Brook was uncommon within the diploma to which he was a grasp each of the visible and the phrase in his stage productions. In two of his most admired Shakespeare stagings—Titus Andronicus on the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, 1955, and King Lear for the newly established Royal Shakespeare Firm in 1962—he was credited as each director and designer, and he labored carefully with stage and costume designers, who channeled his concepts for the look of the efficiency.
The manufacturing of Titus Andronicus, a bit long-considered unstageable due to its heartless, gory subject material, was a triumph of stylisation that eschewed stage blood in favour of the methods of Japanese Noh theatre, the place the blood emanating from the mutilated Lavinia (performed by Vivien Leigh) was represented by streaming lengths of purple ribbon. (Brook’s second nice achievement was reportedly to elicit from Laurence Olivier one in all his most unmannered, and emotionally true, performances within the title position.)
Brook’s 1970 manufacturing of A Midsummer Evening’s Dream set a visible and metaphorical template whose affect might be felt within the historical past of artwork installations at white-cube galleries over the previous half-century as a lot as it might probably within the improvement of theatrical manufacturing over the identical interval
Brook’s notes for these productions, together with sketches for stage designs a few of them roughed out on payments from London eating places, had been among the many archive of his papers acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London, in 2014. Additionally they comprise his notes on a efficiency of Chinese language Operas, on the Westminster Theatre, London, in 1947, which later impressed his celebrated 1970 manufacturing of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Evening’s Dream—set in a white-box set designed by Sally Jacobs and with the actors, in brightly colored costumes acting on trapezes and stilts. The manufacturing, which transferred to New York, set a visible and metaphorical template whose affect might be felt within the historical past of artwork installations at white-cube galleries over the previous half-century as a lot as it might probably within the improvement of theatrical manufacturing over the identical interval.
The manufacturing of A Midsummer Evening’s Dream was one of the crucial concrete realisations of Brook’s most influential written work, The Empty Area (1968), which opens along with his most-quoted dictum: “I can take any empty area and name it a naked stage. A person walks throughout this empty area while another person is watching him, and that is all that’s wanted for an act of theatre to be engaged.”
Brook was a precise up to date of Peter Corridor. In 1955, the 12 months that Brook directed Titus Andronicus, Corridor had created a sensation by bringing Samuel Beckett’s Ready for Godot to London for the primary time. To Corridor, Brook was the best theatrical innovator of his era: “The particular person out on the frontiers, frequently asking what’s high quality in theatre, the place do you discover reality in theatre”.
Brook felt that his likelihood to experiment artistically actually began with a “Theatre of Cruelty” season staged in London, in honour of the work of the French playwright Antonin Artaud. It was funded by the Royal Shakespeare Firm and Brook was in a position to work as an artist in area and time with actors however with out preconceptions or a set time frame. The consequence was a radical 1964 manufacturing of Weiss’s Marat/Sade, starring the younger Glenda Jackson as Charlotte Corday, and the company-generated, anti-Vietnam Struggle play, US (1966).
Brook based a crucible wherein to additional his modern work in Paris in 1970 the place, with beneficiant basis subsidies, he arrange a multinational, multi-ethnic troupe, and the Worldwide Centre for Theatre Analysis (ICTR). He additionally restored a disused theatre, the Bouffes du Nord, which turned his performing group’s everlasting house. Their single biggest achievement was The Mahābhārata, a large trilogy on which Brook labored with Jean-Claude Carrière and Marie-Hélène Estienne, his common collaborators, for almost a decade. It’s the distillation of a Third-century BCE epic, the longest poem identified to literature, whose authentic textual content is round ten instances the size of The Iliad and The Odyssey mixed.
The primary performances of the piece, which was designed to supply what the critic Mark Lawson has referred to as “a common comprehensibility by picture and gesture”, was given in a disused quarry close to to Avignon. Descriptions through the years have recorded efficiency lengths at totally different websites as lasting something from 9 to eleven hours. The trilogy toured the world, transferred to the Bouffes du Nord after which, in English, to Brooklyn, New York Metropolis, and to Glasgow. In Brooklyn The Mahābhārata enabled the revival of the deserted Majestic vaudeville theatre, and in Glasgow the conversion of the previous Museum of Transport into the Tramway arts area. To critics who noticedThe Mahābhārata as being Orientalist, Brook countered that the ICTR, with its multi-racial personnel, had at all times labored towards the evil of racism.
The novelist Bernardine Evaristo paid tribute to Brook following his dying, remembering his manufacturing of The Ik, a 1975 play by Colin Higgins and Denis Cannan: “The Ik (set in Uganda) on the Roundhouse in 1976 once I was 15/16 was unforgettable: multi-racial (forward of his time), inspiring, puzzling & an actor threw up (for actual, I used to be instructed) every evening on stage. I’m wondering what I might make of it at the moment.”
When contemplating the Venice Biennale within the Arsenale buildings or the Triennale di Milano expo installations in borrowed areas across the metropolis, it’s laborious to not be reminded of their influential theatrical equivalents: the Tramway arts area, the Avignon quarry, and different “discovered” theatrical areas made attainable by Brook’s epic, cosmopolitan, multi-national, touring productions, and particularly byThe Mahābhārata.
Brook remained the creative director of the ICTR till 2011, and went on working to the top, publishing a number of latest volumes on theatrical efficiency: The High quality of Mercy: Reflections on Shakespeare (2013); Tip of the Tongue: Reflections on Language and That means (2017); and Taking part in by Ear: Reflections on Music and Sound (2019). He was made CBE in 1965 and a Companion of Honour in 1983. He’s survived by his son and daughter of his marriage to the actress Natasha Parry, who died in 2015.