Based in France since 1974, Peter Brook is a giant of theatrical adventure of the second half of the 20th century, himself director, director, actor and writer. He died on Saturday at the age of 97, information confirmed by Le Monde.
The British-born theater master, who spent a large part of his career in France, left his audience with unique and legendary shows such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Mahabharata” or “The Tempest”.
Alongside Constantin Stanislavski, he was the most influential director of the 20th century, to whom we owe the theater as we know it today.
Peter Brook tutored an actress in Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 1990. [Keystone]
An innovative artist in his interpretations of pieces from the great international repertoire and in particular Shakespeare’s classics, Peter Brooke is the theorist of the “empty space”, a conception of scenography in the form of a return to the source, with a simplified, uncluttered, with the classic decorations breaking.
“I can take any empty space and call it a stage. Someone walks through this empty space while someone else looks on, and that is enough to get the theatrical act going”: These famous opening lines become a “Manifesto” for an alternative and experimental theater.
The steely blue-eyed master has thus reinvented stagecraft, going beyond traditional forms and going back to basics: an actor turning to his audience.
The Bouffes du Nord as home base
His best-known play is The Mahabharata, a nine-hour epic of Hindu mythology (1985), adapted for cinema in 1989.
He created 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 that was about to be demolished, the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.
Peter Brooks (right) at the Bouffes du Nord theater in 1974. [Laszlo Ruszka – Ina/AFP]
Born in London on March 21, 1925, to Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants, he made his first production at the age of 17.
If he dreams of the cinema, he quickly goes to 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, were unleashing passion. By the time he was 30, he was already directing major hits on Broadway.
For the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) he directed many texts by the “bard”, who for him “is the filter through which life experience goes”.
His “Marat/Sade” fascinated London and New York and earned him a Tony Award in 1966.
But by the late 1960s, after 40 theatrical successes, directing the greatest from Laurence Olivier to Orson Welles, Peter Brook claimed to have “exhausted the possibilities of conventional theatre” and entered an experimental phase.
For many, his stunning staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970) for the RSC in a gymnasium shaped like a white cube was a turning point. She urges actress Helen Mirren to give up her early mainstream career and join her fledgling company in Paris, where from the start he aspired to work with actors from different cultures.
In a constant search for authenticity, he travels to Africa, Iran and the United States, carrying out experimental works focused on the “deconditioning” of the actor and the relationship with the spectator. From his travels he brings back anthology shows such as “Les Iks” (1975), “La Conférence des Oiseaux” (1979) and “Le Mahabharata”.
>> In the archives, the interview between Peter Brook and Christian Defaye on the set of Special Cinema:
“That which lives directly in the present”
In All 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]When he triumphed in Britain in 1997 with Samuel Beckett’s Oh les beaux jours, he was hailed by critics as “the best director London doesn’t have”.
After an adventure of more than 35 years at the Bouffes du Nord, Peter Brook left the theater in 2010 at the age of 85 to continue staging productions there.
“All my life, that’s what counted, and that’s why I work in the theater, what lives directly in the present,” he then puts it
The charismatic director was devastated by the death of his wife, actress Natasha Parry, in 2015. “We’re trying to negotiate with fate by saying, ‘Just bring her back for 30 seconds…'”
operas and films
A frame from the 1963 film “His Majesty of the Flies” directed by Peter Brook. [Two Arts Ltd]In addition to plays, he has directed 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 his passion for theater on to his two children, theater director Irina Brook and director Simon Brook.
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