Legendary British theatre director Peter Brook, who was among the most influential theatre directors of the 20th century, passed away at the age of 97.
Critics hailed Brook as “the best director London does not have”. He was born in London in 1925 to a family of Jewish scientists who had immigrated from Latvia.
Best-known for his 1985 masterpiece “The Mahabharata”, a nine-hour version of the Hindu epic, the director lived in Paris from the early 1970s where he set up the International Centre for Theatre Research in an old music hall called the Bouffes du Nord.
Brook left audiences in London and New York astonished with his era-defining “Marat/Sade” in 1964, which won a Tony award, and wrote “The Empty Space”, one of the most influential texts on theatre ever, three years later.
Its opening lines became a manifesto for a generation of young performers who would forge the fringe and alternative theatre scenes.
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage,” he wrote. “A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre…”
Brook’s startling 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a white-cube gymnasium was considered a turning point in world theatre.
It inspired actress Helen Mirren to abandon her burgeoning mainstream career to join his nascent experimental company in Paris.
Mirren later described it as “the most frightening thing I have ever done. There was nothing to hold onto.”
He “thought that stardom was wicked and tasteless… I just wanted my name up there,” the actress told AFP.
Drama critic John Heilpern, who documented their journey in a bestselling book, noted that Brook believed theatre was about freeing the audience’s imagination.
“Every day they would lay out a carpet in a remote village and would improvise a show using shoes or a box,” he later told the BBC. “When someone entered the carpet the show began. There was no script or no shared language.”