The world of theater is losing the most Shakespearean of its directors, the most French of its British, the one who, through tireless work of refinement, revolutionized the approach to our literary monuments. Peter Brook, the man who emptied the stages and filled the flowerbeds, left us yesterday at 97 years old.
Born in London in 1925, he himself fell into the rare category of happy artists. For in this son of Latvian Jewish immigrants, Slavic melancholy was swept away very early on by the passion for reading, going to the theater, seeing the puppets with which he imagined his own representations. He played in miniature, but he dreamed big, and worked the same. What better professional curtain raiser could he hope for than Shakespeare, his lifelong childhood love, the continent he never stopped exploring? By dint of hard work and talent, at barely 21 years old, he signed his first major production, Love’s Labors Lostfollowed by Romeo and Juliet. At the age of 23, he was appointed director of production at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and, record of precocity of another order, he was dismissed after a few months for iconoclasm, his staging of the Salome by Strauss, in the surrealist decorations of Salvador Dali, having caused a scandal. The child prodigy had found his vocation as an enfant terrible.
From the end of the 1950s, his stagings became more and more daring, experimental, less and less heavily loaded with costumes, sets, until they were totally eliminated, until characters were removed, until to resort to extinct languages or leave the text to the free improvisation of the actors. The blueprint gave him momentum. All that he removed in accessories, he gained in intensity, and under his crook the text stripped of its scenic gangue emerged bare, concentrated, sparkling. The theater needs nothing, he said, but an empty space. And in this space the emotion arose.
He found inspiration everywhere, in the Vietnam War as well as in Hindu mythology, from which he drew his river play in 1985, The Mahabharata, nine hours long. He also wanted to bring theater everywhere, especially where it was not, in village squares, in supermarkets, in garages, in the suburbs, at Sainte-Anne hospital or in the Sahara desert. It was again to sublimate and democratize art that he transposed Shakespeare or Marguerite Duras onto our screens, of which he offered us in 1959 a Moderato cantabile melancholy, carried by the duo Jean-Paul Belmondo – Jeanne Moreau.
If the name of Peter Brook remains so linked to France, it is because he lived there for fifty years, until his last days, and in 1972 he revived one of his most beautiful scenes: that of the Northern food. From the ruins of this popular theatre, he made an essential outpost where the actors of his International Center for Theatrical Creations met, a home port from where they traveled together new horizons.
The President of the Republic and his wife salute an extraordinary director who extracted the quintessence of theater and pushed it beyond its three walls. They send their heartfelt condolences to those close to him, to the actors he trained and to the public he forged.