Blancheblanche marvin's london theatreviews

recommended by Peter Brook
**** = stand if necessary
*** = sit in front stalls
** = sit in back stalls
* = have a drink!


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.

SAVING BRITISH THEATRE DURING THE LOCKDOWN June 2020 We are living today through a very serious catastrophe which will bring about changes in the theatre that may permanently remain. Answers… alternatives are being researched and pondered. I am sure there are many leading lights inventing solutions for the west end theatres’ and producing companies’ survival, not owned by billionaires, who will find solutions for all theatres and theatre producing companies, and not just be concerned in maintaining their own. Theatre is more seriously affected whether it is drama, music or dance, because they are social occasions where the live chemistry of seeing, hearing, and performing, is a basic need of human beings. It will take time for theatre to recover even in a revised form that will probably happen. A newly coordinated organization is needed to rebuild the theatre using its imagination and creativity in restoring the old and new structures. I am sorry not to be able to physically join such a group but will always be eager to help verbally or by the written word. The fact is that theatre will never die because it is part of the human spirit which stimulates hope. It’s that energy and persistence which must be maintained. Temporary measures are needed now as well as a look to the future.

There are many important issues to discuss but for now I feel the theatres can be used to rehearse only plays allowing distance or a split screen which is then videoed for screening in the theatres of these actual plays to be eventually seen live. An ensemble company should be formed by the group of theatres and producers to build a technical company like NT Live in order to shoot the plays where expenses are shared as well as giving technicians work. Tickets can be purchased by email or post and seating 6-9 feet apart in theatres is possible financially if you rerun the video several times during the day or night. They are also very important as a record of the show and as a means of selling the productions to other regions and cities outside of London which could turn out to be useful during new live-video theatre performances at the London theatre or even become a future feature at the London theatre as a Sunday programme. Dress rehearsals could have special or technical audiences for audience reaction, limited but useful.

The Art Council’s new approach has been changed by the lockdown as they now consider funding empty theatres for survival, accepting their community work as a replacement for plays. I have been following the various alternatives of current survival that are concerned in producing work on video without the need of filling a theatre. Buildings are a distinct problem needing special alternatives. If the Arts Council supports non-commercial buildings that have a distinct job of servicing a community, then why not save the west end theatres that need support as historic buildings?

I started the Empty Space….Peter Brook Award when the Arts Council changed its original premise of supporting new venues in order to keep new writers and writing alive despite any size of audience. When they suddenly changed to demanding a track record, they switched their whole raison d’etre. It was then, I initiated the Peter Brook Award to compensate. At that time the fringe theatre was the producer and initiated new productions from up and coming writers, directors, and actors. But that changed as productions became more costly and visiting companies began to occupy more and more of the theatres. The artistic directors of fringe theatre became administrators rather than producers. More and more companies have now dominated the scene and should be the ones receiving the Arts Council grants as this is a major change in the theatre. They fill the theatres as they increase in numbers. This enormous focus on companies was why I stopped the Peter Brook Award. It outlived its purpose.

But since the Arts Council does support buildings…. the time has come to support commercial theatres if they are in trouble…and also concentrate on companies who can run in commercial as well as non-commercial theatres. The difficulty lies in theatre being an art form requiring social participation…that chemical excitement from seeing something live where anything can happen and is shared with others. The human race has always needed social experiences, which is why one has to accept that recovery will take a longer time. The lower count on audiences as well as actors projecting their voices to the audience exposing the virus more easily or keeping 6 -9 feet apart on stage night after night is impossible. Theatre cannot be adapted away from its basic foundation. But I can see, until the tide turns, it can be turned into cinemas houses that show only plays filmed of great companies, actors, and eras. Seating 6 feet apart for audiences will work because it’s possible the film can be shown many times in one day and run for a week or two depending on its appeal. For example, the Vaudeville is perfect for cinema and can show the socially slanted classic plays so well recorded and filmed….Chekhov, Ibsen, G.B.Shaw, Shakespeare, Dickens ….productions done at NT and RSC filmed and recorded. The Palace could show Harry Potter films continually; the Duchess could project the Ealing Comedies, the Carry On films…. theatre focusing on comedies; the Apollo could concentrate on musicals which have evolved from theatre. The Sondheim theatre can run Les Mis on film with no problem. In such a programme, you have the connection with theatre…its plays, directors, and actors specifically shown and repeated in order to compensate for the loss of income in distanced seating. There should be Arts Council assistance for cinema theatrre as they have already switched direction in subsidising the survival of local theatres (no longer fringe or studio theatres but are now local) in their filmed monologues or in theatre, their live readings or recorded ones, alternatives for survival never done before. The closed years of theatre will not destroy it. New inventions will come of it. We still refer to and use the Greek theatre today…we will refer to the British theatre tomorrow….the theatre will return. by blanche marvin