British director Peter Brook dies aged 97

British director Peter Brook dies aged 97

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Settled in France since 1974, Peter Brook is a giant of the theatrical adventure of the second half of the 20th century, in turn director, director, actor and writer. He died on Saturday at the age of 97, according to confirmed information from Le Monde.

The theater master, born in Great Britain but who spent a large part of his career in France, bequeathed to his audience unique and legendary shows, such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Mahabharata” or “The Storm”.

He was with Constantin Stanislavski the most influential director of the 20th century, to whom we owe the theater as we know it today.

Peter Brook instructing an actress on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in 1990. [Keystone]

Acting Revolution

An innovative artist in his interpretations of plays from the great international repertoire, and more particularly Shakespeare’s classics, Peter Brooke is the theoretician of “empty space”, a conception of scenography in the form of a return to the source, with a more simplified, uncluttered, breaking with the classic decorations.

“I can take any empty space and call it a stage. Someone walks through that empty space while someone else watches, and that’s enough to get the theatrical act started” : these famous first lines will become a “manifesto” for an alternative and experimental theater.

The steely blue-eyed master has thus reinvented the art of the stage by going beyond traditional forms and returning to the fundamentals: an actor facing his audience.

The Bouffes du Nord as a home base

His best-known play is “The Mahabharata”, a nine-hour epic of Hindu mythology (1985), adapted for the cinema in 1989.

He created it in France, where he settled in the early 1970s and where he founded the “International Center for Theater Research”, in an Italian-style theater about to be demolished, the Théâtre of the Bouffes du Nord.

Peter Brooks (right) in 1974 at the Bouffes du Nord theatre. [Laszlo Ruszka  - Ina/AFP]Peter Brooks (right) in 1974 at the Bouffes du Nord theatre. [Laszlo Ruszka – Ina/AFP]

Born in London on March 21, 1925, this son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants made his first production at the age of 17.

If he dreams of cinema, he quickly heads for the theater. At 20, an Oxford graduate, he was already a professional director and, two years later, his productions in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, unleashed passions. At 30, he is already directing big hits on Broadway.

For the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), he staged many texts of the “Bard”, which for him is “the filter through which the experience of life passes”.

His “Marat/Sade” fascinates London and New York and earned him a Tony Award in 1966.

Inspirational journeys

But at the end of the 1960s, after 40 theatrical successes in which he directed the greatest, from Laurence Olivier to Orson Welles, Peter Brook claimed to have “exhausted the possibilities of conventional theatre” and entered an experimental period.

For many, his startling production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1970) for the RSC in a white cube-shaped gymnasium was a turning point. She pushes actress Helen Mirren to abandon her early mainstream career to join her fledgling company in Paris where, from the outset, he aspired to work with actors from different cultures.

In a constant quest for authenticity, he travels to Africa, Iran or the United States and carries out experimental work there focused on the “deconditioning” of the actor and the relationship with the spectator. He brings back from his travels anthology shows such as “Les Iks” (1975), “La Conférence des Oiseaux” (1979) or “Le Mahabharata”.

>> In the archives, the interview between Peter Brook and Christian Defaye on the set of Special Cinema:

Peter Brook in 1981. [RTS]

Peter Brook / Cinema special / 12 min. / April 14, 1981

“That which lives directly in the present”

Throughout the creations, (“Timon d’Athènes” (1974), “Measure for Measure” (1978), “La Cerisaie” (1981), “La Tempête” (1990), “L’Homme qui” (1993) , Hamlet (2000) or “11 and 12” (2009), he forges an increasingly pure and spare style.

Actress Natasha Parry, between Michel Piccoli (left) and her husband Peter Brook (right) [Martin Bureau - AFP]Actress Natasha Parry, between Michel Piccoli (left) and her husband Peter Brook (right) [Martin Bureau – AFP]In 1997, when he triumphed in the United Kingdom with “Oh les beaux jours” by Samuel Beckett, critics hailed him as “the best director that London does not have”.

After an adventure of more than 35 years at the Bouffes du Nord, Peter Brook left the management of the theater in 2010, at the age of 85, while continuing to stage productions there.

“All my life, the only thing that counted, and that’s why I work in the theater, is what lives directly in the present”, he expresses then

The charismatic director was shaken in 2015 by the death of his wife, actress Natasha Parry. “We try to negotiate with fate by saying: ‘Just bring her back for 30 seconds…'”

Operas and films

A still from the movie An image from the film “His Majesty of the Flies”, directed by Peter Brook in 1963. [Two Arts Ltd]In addition to plays, he has staged several operas such as “The Magic Flute” and made a dozen films including “Moderato Cantabile” (1960) and “His Majesty of the Flies” (1963), both adapted from novels.

Peter Brook passed on his passion for theater to his two children, theater director Irina Brook and director Simon Brook.

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