Blancheblanche marvin's london theatreviews

recommended by Peter Brook
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PETER BROOK and SHAKESPEARE at the Institut Francais ©Blanche Marvin 2019>
The fantastic celebration at the Institute Francais launched Peter Brook’s new book: Playing by Ear: Reflections on Music and Sound. The programme was divided into panels: Brook’s Shakespeare and the Critics, B’s Worldwide Shakespeare, Peter Brook in Conversation with Trevor Nunn, B’s Shakespeare in France, B’s Shakespeare and Directors, B’s Shakespeare and the Actors. Each panel, after the speeches, held lively discussions upon the impact of Shakespeare which were extremely stimulating.

Though all the sections were enlightening and full of stories, the two sections that were mesmerising were Peter Brook in Conversation with Trevor Nunn and Brook’s Shakespeare and the Actors. They brought an amazing insight into the continuity of theatre as an art form as it existed in those days and revealed the loss of art we are now undergoing. Trevor Nunn related how in seeing Peter Brook’s productions as a boy, he was inspired to become a director, and like in the days of apprenticeship, learned the ropes of the trade. They discussed Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and how Trevor Nunn gleaned from it, the inspiration of invention in staging Shakespeare. Peter Brook talked about the specific Shakespeare plays he had directed with the great actors. Trevor Nunn discussed his interpretation in the staging of those plays using the tools he learned from Peter Brook. They discussed the fact that they directed ensemble companies where actor and director had years of working and growing together with rehearsal periods lasting 11 weeks. Actors were dedicated into becoming artists and not egotists seeking fame, as most are today. They became theatre actors and not television stars. Working together to create a work of art united a company into a family growing together….. and that ensemble of actors rehearsed with the same technicians as well as directors. The familiarity of growing together allowed for the exploration into new and inventive vistas. In the actors’ section, chaired by Janet Suzman, Frances de la Tour, Sarah Kestelman, and Ben Kingsley spoke of the years of ensemble acting and their interdependency. How in the Dream they improvised inventive singing with some of the dialogue as encouraged by Brook. How they supported one another in improvisation. That integrated polished production, that feeling of a complete work professionally perfect, alongside of the experimenting, kept the production fresh for the long runs and tours. Still it was being kept together as an ensemble that allowed the growth. We in the audience followed the progress of the actors and grew up with them. It was Trevor Nunn who observed Brook’s productions at the Royal Shakespeare theatre and when he became artistic director it was a giant step. Nunn had the opportunity to create an ensemble company at the RSC where actors like Ian McKellen, Judy Dench, Patrick Stewart, Alan Howard, Bob Peck, Ian Richardson, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Helen Mirron, Janet Suzman, Edward Petheridge, etc, etc, were part of the ensemble ….and where each and every one became a star after first being a solid actor. The attitude of work and not just becoming famous motivated everyone while the masterful material given to Brook and Nunn was respected.

Brook’s Shakespeare and the Actors panel, consisting of Janet Suzman, Sara Kestelman, Frances de la Tour, Ben Kingsley, and Adrian Lester, talked about the way Brook directed them in mutual exploration so that from the very start at rehearsals a company was blended. In doing Shakespeare and the classical plays….material of greatness…. they developed their technique in performing in a range of styles and the capacity to portray characters. Adrian Lester was not in the original Dream, but did perform Hamlet in Brook’s more condensed version of Hamlet many years later with similar reactions to Brook’s approach in staging a play. Lester also portrayed Rosalind in As You Like It. Brook’s Shakespeare and the Directors panel, chaired by Stephen Unwin, with Robert Icke, Jude Kelly, David Thacker, Deborah Warner, after much discussion regarding Shakespeare and their productions, finally agreed that their job in the theatre was to storytell. Brook’s Worldwide Shakespeare panel chaired by Paul Allain with panelists Maria Delgado, Simon Godwin, and Grzegorz Ziolkowski covered the effects of Shakespeare as interpreted in so many countries under so many cultures.

The exchange of ideas and experiences, the discovery of information, the recognition and respect was a joy to behold. My speech below on the critics panel is here enclosed, though sadly unspoken due to my misunderstanding of time.

We’ve come together to celebrate Peter Brook and the innovations he’s created with his staging of Shakespeare. But first, I must begin by celebrating that at 94 years old, he is still writing, directing and innovating while others have fallen by the wayside. Whether it’s fate or genes or plain determination, Peter Brook is still here. I know what strength it takes to still go on. At 94, I can testify to that better than anyone. So here’s to Peter Brook, may he continue to thrive!

World fame came to Peter because of the extraordinary, innovative way he directed Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream at the renowned RSC. He modernised it so that everyone could follow it more easily, keeping the lilting lyricism of Shakespeare’s language and coordinating it with its setting…..a circus arena…..and not the actual Elizabethan scenery. You may call it abstracting Shakespeare, but it is beyond that. Characterisations for the actors as circus folk freed them from the usual restrictions and allowed them to create their own inner dimensions. Everyone in theatre was affected by that giant step.

There have always been changes in theatre spaces throughout the history of civilisation. The Italians performed street theatre before Roman times, the Greeks created amphitheatres for epic theatre, theatres in France and England entertained the court. People’s theatre came into being bearing fruit in Shakespeare’s time in the indoor and outdoor venues for the masses as well as the elite. Postwar World War 2 in Paris created les caves…space in cellars to accommodate the existentialism of a disillusioned era, the Off-Broadway movement happened as a result which I helped to instigate with my Cricket Theatre, one of the founding Off-Broadway theatres. Festivals like Edinburgh were born where any space will do...but what Peter Brook did with A Midsummers Night’s Dream was to bring the fringe of les caves, Off-Broadway, street theatre, etcetera together and legitimise it through the RSC, thus creating a lasting and evolving new era in theatre achieved by converting that mountainous power of legitimate theatre into the Brook concept.

It was also Peter Brook’s concept that space could be everywhere and anywhere, but what you say with it makes theatre. You may perform with greatness, but it’s the storytelling that matters. And that concept is bigger than style. Peter Brook initiates by concept and that is the moving force of progress...the caveman who conceived the idea of taking a stone and making a wheel...Isaac Newton who discovered gravity via an apple falling from a tree... James Watt who invented the steam engine, and Einstein in his theory of relativity changed the world.

The contemporary inventions of the computer. Google, and the i-phone may have made knowledge more accessible but have also dehumanised social behaviour. In recent years, theatre has become mesmerised by the pyrotechnics of production but despairing in professional play structure or storytelling. Peter Brook prefers to use sparse settings but great storytelling where emotions are aroused and a pensive light shines through. He has continued with A Midsummer’s Night Dream, extending its concepts and eventually turning us back into the heart of the matter rather than relying on showy physical productions to attract attention. He prefers to focus on direct storytelling and the creation of characters.

Peter Brook has always functioned with this concept as his inspiration…his base for theatre whether it was doing Shakespeare at the RSC or The Birds at the Donmar Warehouse, where he actually legitimised fringe theatre as a main form of studio theatre. He travelled and toured to all sorts of spaces and places where the theatre itself or the location became the prop…The Conference of the Birds, The Mahabharata…but always as a stage for the storytelling. We are here today to celebrate the theatre revolution that Peter Brook has brought about. The participating actors will be able to personally describe his effect upon them as will all the other theatre people who have helped to sustain theatre as an art form. We are here today to acknowledge Peter Brook’s credo in keeping the world alive with truth and beauty.