Born in London on March 21, 1925, this son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants had signed his first production at the age of 17.
Peter Brook, who died on Saturday at the age of 97, was with Constantin Stanislavski the most influential director of the 20th century and to whom we owe the theater as we know it today. The steely blue-eyed master, born in Great Britain, whose nationality he had despite spending much of his career in France, reinvented the art of the stage by going beyond traditional forms and returning to fundamentals: an actor in front of his audience.
Often compared to Stanislavski (1863-1938) who had revolutionized acting, Peter Brook is the theorist of “empty space”, a kind of bible for the theater world, which first appeared in 1968.” I can take any empty space and call it a scene. Someone crosses this empty space while someone else observes it, and that is enough for the theatrical act to be initiated”: these famous first lines will become a “manifesto” for an alternative and experimental theater.
His best-known play is “Le Mahabharata”, a nine-hour epic of Hindu mythology (1985), adapted for cinema in 1989. He premiered it in France, where he settled in the early 1970s and where he founded the “International Center for Theatrical Research”, in an Italian-style theater about to be demolished, the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.
Son of immigrants
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” fascinated London and New York and earned him a Tony Award in 1966.
But at the end of the 1960s, after 40 theatrical successes in which he had directed the greatest, from Laurence Olivier to Orson Welles, 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 conducts 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 “The Iks” (1975), “The Bird Conference” (1979) or “The Mahabharata”.
Critics hail it
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. 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 told AFP. 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…'”
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