St John’s Wood theater critic’s tribute to Peter Brook

12:04 July 14, 2022

British theater director and director Peter Brook died aged 97 in France on July 2. St John’s Wood theater critic and producer Blanche Marvin MBE writes about the legacy of Peter Brook and the Empty Space…Peter Brook Awards.

There has been endless attention and obituaries in all the news media about Peter Brook’s death…much more than during his lifetime.

The late Peter Brook with Blanche Marvin MBE
– Credit: Nick Flintoff

In all of these obituaries, none of the reviewers, including those who were part of the team that helped run it, mentioned the Empty Space…Peter Brook Awards, launched in 1998, when the Arts Council suddenly changed its policy of subsidizing marginal theatres. , regardless of the size of the attendance.

They then demanded a report. I had a small department at the Arts Council where I discovered new writers, archived and placed the plays in these marginal theaters.

This sudden change in policy left me destitute…I then began to think of a way to continue this important program on my own.

Deeply believing that Peter Brook had not only changed the world of William Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but also carried and opened the horizons of the profound concept of French cave theatres.

Paris had just been liberated from German occupation and, with little money, was opening up every available space to perform and express this existential period through its brilliant writers who influenced world theater.

The Hamburg Opera’s use of his space for new improvised pieces as well as classics was influential on him.

Peter Brook embodied the concept that buildings don’t make theater but an empty space with an actor who had something to say, be it Shakespeare or current contemporary plays, makes theater.

This concept opened the theater to and from the world. There was no need for huge sums of money or buildings, but the will and drive of theater makers to express the will of the people in any possible space of Britain according to -war took over.

But the years passed and Peter Brook left England to set up his theater in France (Bouffe du Nord) from where he was able to travel the world with these great productions of the Mahabharata (classical Indian myths).

He collaborated with Jeanjean-Claude Carrier who projected his message primarily through image and gesture, including Conference of the Birds (based on a 12th-century Persian poem) and Tierno Bokar, a biodrama about a Malian Sufi.

Brook continued his work at the Bouffes du Nord and toured the world. He spent little time in England and only some time in Scotland.

So I created the Empty Space…Peter Brook Awards in 1998. It was the work of these Awards that awakened the impact of Brook’s concepts.

The Empty Space…Peter Brook Awards opened doors and helped to legitimize marginal theatre; its top-notch team of critics brought notoriety, recognition and legitimacy to the writers and work of these theaters of the void.

He also brought Peter Brook, himself, back to England.

Undated handout photo issued by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) of theater and film director Pet

Undated handout photo issued by the Royal Shakespeare Company of theater and film director Peter Brook, who has died aged 97.
– Credit: PA

We finished in 2017 after 28 years of pioneering work to bring fringe into the mainstream.

But times are changing, our premise was redundant, and the concept of rewards has become so abused that it has lost its true impact.

Our awards had a very special meaning and service; it came to its natural end. But it brought Peter Brook back to London with his varied productions at the Young Vic under David Lan and the National Theater under Rufus Norris.

The list of contemporary plays by Peter Brook that have been performed in France and toured, including London, was a far cry from Shakespeare (although Peter directed his own intimate version of The Tempest): Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, The Man Oliver Sack’s Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Valley of Astonishment.

And there was this period when Samuel Beckett and the French Antonin Artaud in his “theater of cruelty” influenced Marat/Sade de Brook in 1964, while the German writer Peter Weiss influenced US in 1966, an anti -improvised war on the Vietnam War.

Moreover, his fable pieces such as The Suit or The Prisoner emphasized his shaman side rather than Shakespeare, without forgetting his books The Tip of the Tongue (describing the power of words), Playing by Ear (the importance of music), The Quality of Mercy (an insight into Shakespeare), or his workshops and consultations with directors.

He thought deeply, taught and led with grace, and was open to constant change.

We will never see his equal again. Good night, sweet Prince, and may the flight of angels sing to you of your rest.


About Victoria Rothstein

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