October 20, 2019

For Peter Brook, the Experimental Showman, ‘Nothing Is Ever Finished’

For Peter Brook, the Experimental Showman, ‘Nothing Is Ever Finished’

The French windows onto the balcony have been left open. But since it is August in Paris, in a quiet neighborhood, there are none of the usual, urgent noises of urban street life, and when I look out the window from where I’m sitting, all I can see is sky.

“You know,” Mr. Brook says, “since I’ve been living here I have this uncanny feeling, although what I normally think of as Paris is just a 15-minute drive from here, that I’m in another country.”

In a way, another country is always where Mr. Brook has aspired to be.

The London-born son of Russian-Jewish scientists from Latvia (his father patented a popular medicine called Brooklax), the young Peter dreamed of becoming foreign correspondent, “to have the joy of being sent all over the world, month after month, to dangerous struggle spots anywhere — just to say this world is not the little world of middle-class London.”

As a student at Oxford University, he also thought he might become a painter, a composer, a pianist and, most particularly, a filmmaker. (He did indeed go on to make movies that include “Lord of the Flies” and “Meetings with Remarkable Men,” adapted from a book by Gurdjieff.)

And all the while, he says, he was tasting a bit of everything on offer — in culture, in sex, in drugs (though he was blessed, he says, with a natural resistance to addiction) and in religion.

He had been confirmed as a member of the Church of England when he was 16. “But this at once led me to think why — why is this better than Islam? So I read that, and I read Buddhism. And that led me to India. But all of this was, again: Taste, test, question, and never reach a conclusion.”

His supreme affinity, always, was for storytelling, he says. And in the theater, he found its most congenial, and universal, application. At 21, he directed an effervescent production of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost” at Stratford; at 23, he was named the producing director of the Royal Opera House; both his interpretations of Shakespeare and of sleek comedies (“The Little Hut”), costume dramas (“Ring Round the Moon”) and even musicals made him the toast of the West End.

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