Sunday, July 3, 2022

Mourning Peter Brook

I am in London right now for a research appointment tomorrow and then a Dickens conference later this week. Tonight, I saw Kathryn Hunter in King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe.

A lot of people know Hunter as Puck in Julie Taylor's filmed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I also saw her in the title role of Timon of Athens, so I was very much looking forward to seeing her.

After the show, however, she stepped forward to address the audience. She could hardly speak. She said that many of us might not know, but that Peter Brook died last night. Several members of the audience gasped.

I wish I could remember what precisely she said, but the general thrust of it was that Peter's spirit was with us that night. For theatre artists everywhere, that is a comforting thought, as we mourn the loss of one of the most important directors of the 20th century.

Like many people, I first came to learn about Brook by reading his book The Empty Space. Brook started out directing Shakespeare, and became one of the most respected young directors at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He directed a particularly famous production of King Lear with Paul Scofield.

Brook was always about more than just directing Shakespeare, though. He had his finger on the pulse of a number of theatrical movements, and was highly influenced by Antonin Artaud. The Theatre of Cruelty envisioned by Artaud became popularized after Brook directed the first English-language production of Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade, utilizing many of Artaud's ideas.

A truly international artist, the British Brook spent much of his career based in France, and was profoundly influenced by the culture of India. His stage adaptation of the Indian epic The Mahabharata is considered by many people to be his masterpiece.

Was Brook's spirit present at the Globe tonight as so many artists influenced by his work carried on his legacy? We can only hope so.