Peter Brooks’ death, the universal theater maker

Posted July 3, 2022, 2:26 pmUpdated July 3, 2022 at 14:29

In front of Bouffe du Nord, this July night, a florist on the prowl would have lost a rose. It would be the most beautiful involuntary tribute that a passer-by could have given to the theatre’s great man, who died on July 2, 2022 at the age of 97. In their beautiful simplicity, its weathered, timeless walls resembled her so much. This room in the north of Paris he had invested in it from the early 1970s and he continued to live there until the end, even though he was no longer the manager. He had carefully left his mark on her: the art of creating the fullness of emotion in an “empty space”.

Whether he put on Shakespeare, his great master, frescoes such as “Le Mahâbhârata”, tales or Beckett, Peter Brook did not offer scenery. Four sticks were enough for him to represent a house, a stump and a few twigs to evoke a forest … The magician transformed his actors into king and queen by adorning them with a simple crimson cloth. An increasingly insistent swing with the body provoked a storm. And then there was this bare earth, radiantly lit, as if animated by a telluric force. Sea or desert, street or village square … By walking on it, his characters seemed to bring the world back to life.

It takes time to get to the point. Today’s theatergoers, from seniors to teenagers, have been familiar with his work since moving to Paris. But the man, son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, started making theater very early. His first productions in London date from the early 1940s. He was not even 20 years old. If we take the sum of his creations and recreations today, there are more than 90, or about as many as his age.

Stream burns from the beginning of any tree. Shakespeare remains his common thread, magnificently translated into French by Jean-Claude Carrière, his unwavering companion. But he also tackles Marlowe, Shaw and Beckett, then the American (Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller), the Russian (Chekhov, Dostoevsky), the Nordic (Ibsen) and of course the French repertoire. In his prism, the modern ones, with a certain taste for eclecticism: André Roussin, Jean Anouilh, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet …

parallel cinema

The director immediately opened up to other disciplines: From the late 1940s, he staged operas in Covent Garden. At the same time he leads a career, humble, but not insignificant, as a filmmaker with a total of ten films: “Sentimental Journey” (1944), “Moderato Cantabile” (1959), “His Majesty of the Flies” (1963), “Le Mahâbharâta “(1989),” The Tragedy of Hamlet “(2002 … Almost all of them are linked to his work as a theater man.

It was not until 1962, when he created “King Lear” at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, that Peter Brook decided to abandon the glitter of traditional theater, remove the scenery and implement his theory. To the bare scene is added a new way of staging, based on improvisation, the constant search for the right play, a new relationship with the public. Brook aims for a total theater, inspired by Antonin Arthaud’s cruelty theater. But his “revolution” does not stop there. The Briton decides to expand his playing field, and gradually forces himself as the herald of a “world theater”. This involves travel (Iran, Africa, North America) and of course meetings.

In 1971, when he moved to Paris, he created the International Center for Theater Research, open to actors from all over the world. Like Ariane Mnouchkine, he calls for mixed castings where, along with Frenchmen or Britons like Maurice Bénichou or Kathryn Hunter … there are Indians or Africans. Among them, Bakary Sangaré, a former student of the Bamako Arts Institute, noted in “Le Mahâbhârata” and then in “La Tempête”, will join the Comédie-Française in 2002. From Brooks’ house to Molière’s house, he is only a step away. .

Storytelling instructor

The more Brooks shows are purified, the more the osmosis between Western tradition and cultures in the rest of the world deepens. Brook is a theater maker without boundaries, all at the same time director, storyteller, griot. The wonderful lies in the details of a small gesture, a glance … and in these silences filled with a thousand meanings. The Walkman master can immerse us in Carmen’s tragedy, exposed, abbreviated and carried by the notes of a piano, and next time drive us into the South African townships. The same humanity is flooding the stage. And overwhelms the audience. An artist of the unspeakable and the invisible, Brook had no trouble breaking down this fourth wall that separates the spectator from the actor.

Since the 2010s, when the duo formed by Olivier Mantei and Olivier Poubelle had taken over the helm of the Bouffes du Nord, Peter Brook, aided by his accomplice Marie-Hélène Estienne, had devoted himself to more modest or shorter projects without hesitation. to “re-recording” some of his creations (like “Fragments” by Beckett) or to add a short chapter to the Mahâbhârata. He was there almost every year. Lately, his shows have more and more resembled acting lessons in the form of a luminous testament. His last creation on the bill at Les Bouffes in April last year was “The Tempest Project”. Peter Brook once again seized the flamboyant work of the great will to celebrate its most beautiful flame, that of freedom.

Peter Brook



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