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Peter Brook. A life in theatre. Early career. At the beginning of his career Brook was a successful commercial director, working in London and Paris. He directed many of the legends of the 1940s and 50s like John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. Early Career.

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peter brook

Peter Brook

A life in theatre

early career
Early career
  • At the beginning of his career Brook was a successful commercial director, working in London and Paris.
  • He directed many of the legends of the 1940s and 50s like John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.
early career1
Early Career
  • Brook became known for achieving spectacular and new effects with moments of classic plays - such as hanging an actor upside down from the proscenium arch in a version of “Dark of the Moon”
early career2
Early Career
  • Even at the height of his success, Brook gained a reputation for experimenting and searching for originality
  • Eventually (late 1960s) Brook abandoned the pressures of commercial theatre as he searches for a more ‘pure’ form of theatre.
directing style
Directing Style
  • Brook believes the most important aspect of drama is that a play is “alive”
  • He also believes that a director must search for the meaning of the text “buried in the essential, living, heart of the play” and not simply look for answers in the words written on the page.
directing style1
Directing Style
  • Brook has been known to rewrite plays or sections of them to better communicate their meaning. Some critics were appalled by this, but Brook countered saying “…the [original] texts do not get burned!”
directing achievements
Directing Achievements
  • Brook gained his reputation directing fresh and original versions of classic works.
  • He has suggested a key to his success is always searching for the truth in the play and working from there - never seeking to reproduce his own past success or imitate others simply because that style has had success.
directing achievements1
Directing Achievements
  • Critical responses to his drama include:
  • (1964: King Lear) “The most important version since Shakespeare’s original performance”
  • (1982: Carmen) “It was almost as if I had never seen opera before”
directing style2
Directing Style
  • Brooks style is depends on the actors in front of him
  • - Different production have seen him adopting varying approaches, from that of the controlling tyrant with a thick notebook of diagrams and instructions to an experimenter allowing his actors complete freedom who gained a reputation amongst actors for the phrase ‘I don’t know’
directing style3
Directing Style
  • Brook was known for his willingness to abandon his preconceived vision of a text when he saw that it didn’t suit the actors in the rehearsal room.
directing style4
Directing style
  • His experimental work was shaped by fundamental questions about drama:
  • What role do words play in theatre?
  • Are economic pressures killing theatre?
  • Is the uniform and predictable shapes of theatres stifling theatre?
  • What should the relationship between actor and audience be?
  • Do actors and directors have ‘the spirit’ to make theatre?
  • Is theatre relevant to a modern society?
directing style5
Directing style.
  • Brook sought to reinvent, seeing theatre as a dying art form, after deciding that “make believe is necessity” in any society he pursued the following question…
  • “How to make theatre absolutely and fundamentally necessary to people - as fundamental as eating or sex?”
directing style6
Directing Style

His obsession with the power of images over words had a logical basis.

As early as the 1960s he recognised that people’s lives were becoming dominated by images: photographs, film clips, and television were changing the way people related with the world and therefore theatre had to change to remain relevant to the average person, who was becoming less interested in ‘the word’

directing style7
Directing Style
  • He noted that the art world had abandoned realism earlier than the theatre and artists working in abstract ways were achieving huge popularity. He felt drama could learn from this.
  • To those who doubted the need for change in drama, he cited dwindling interest from the public and stated “Theatre, is not theatre, without an audience”
directing style8
Directing Style
  • Brook (along with others in the 60s) virtually invented the concept of ‘the workshop’ - He believed actors needed more freedom to experiment and explore the ‘subconcious’ truths of themselves and the text in order to find the crucial hidden meanings within a play.
directing style9
Directing style
  • The workshop:

Neither a rehearsal, nor an acting class, the workshop is a chance to experiment, requiring an openness and a freedom form the participants. The workshop doesn’t always generate useful material in the same way a rehearsal does, but it always generates ideas.

directing style10
Directing Style
  • In the 1960s Brook famously catagorised theatre in four ways.
  • The DEADLY theatre - commercial drama, motivated only by money, predictable, formulaic and unadventurous
  • The ROUGH theatre - a theatre of laughter, ideas and invention. Typified by the work of Brecht or even the music hall, this kind of theatre is often appreciated by ‘the masses’

"The rough theatre deals with men's actions and because it is down to earth and direct - because it admits wickedness and laughter - the rough and ready seems better than the hollowly holy”

directing styles
Directing Styles

3) The Holy Theatre: A theatre of ritual and spiritual exploration, typified by the work of Artaud. Not always hugely successful but sometimes incredibly powerful, the holy theatre is able to make the ‘metaphysical’ (the spiritual or invisible elements in life) appear on stage through use of patterns, rhythms and structure.

Brook compares the power of the holy theatre to the power of music - both are absurd if considered logically, but both make sense if we allow them to.

directing styles1
Directing Styles

4) The immediate theatre.

This is the phrase Brook applied to his own work - describing the challenges faced by modern theatre directors and musing on the role itself, what a director could and should to to ensure he/she creates living, important, worthwhile theatre.

Brook’s famous production of Marat / Sade is a combination of what Brook would describe as the Rough and the Holy. It is both earthy, immediate and aggressive, whilst at the same time containing abstract and ritualistic elements.

Brook’s process of developing Marat / Sade is recorded in David Jones’ book ‘Great Directors at Work’

further reading
Further Reading

Great Directors at Work (Brook) Jones, D.R

The Empty Space - Brook, P (esp final chapter)

Theatre Studies - An Approach for advanced level - Mackay and Cooper

50 Great Theatre Directors - Mitter

Many other textbooks will have sections on Peter Brook and the blog will shortly contain a series of links to his work and writing about him.