Peter Brook, famed theater director of Scale and Humanity, dies at 97

By then Mr. Brooke, delighted to “make terrible changes, and ship old traditions,” In his own words, he became an icon warrior. Some refer to this change in his 1960 Paris production “The Balcony” by Jean Genet, a work that was boldly considered subversive at the time. For Genet’s scenes of exotic life in a Paris brothel, Mr. Brooke used the amateurs of spectacular appearance, found in the bars of Paris, as well as professional actors and dancers. But the radical revival of “King Lear”, staged for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1962, was more significant.

Not only did Mr. Brooke Schofield play the titular giant’s hero as a painfully flawed human, but just before the production opened, he threw the set he designed himself, ensuring that the plot unfolds on stage under normal lighting. The resulting epic memorably revealed the cruel absurdities of humanity.

Brooke made great use of improvisation and theatrical games when he was rehearsing on The Terrace, and in 1964 he took the process even further in a series of experimental workshops funded by the RSC and named it The Theater of Cruelty, in honor of the theories of the French playwright Antonin I’d like to. The idea was to encourage a troupe of actors, among whom was young Glenda Jackson, to find new forms of physical and emotional expression and to ask basic questions about their calling. As Mr. Brooke mentioned in The Threads of Time, these were: “What is the written word? What is the spoken word? Why play the stage at all?”

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Mr. Brook never stopped asking such questions. His career from 1964 onwards may be seen as a quest for basic facts about life and theater he insisted could never be definitive. The research led to what he called “the theater of turmoil” – as manifested in Marat/Sade, his exploration of the madness in revolutionary France; and ‘The United States’, its evocation of the Vietnam War–and acts of inquiry like ‘The Man Who’ and a play in 1996 “Qui est La?” which used readings from Bertolt Brecht, Konstantin Stanislavsky and other theorists and combined them with “Hamlet” as if they had arranged them.

Some saw a change of focus in his work. Many were dark, disturbing, and even hopeless: “Titus,” “Lear,” “United States,” and in 1975, “Ik” which included an African tribe morally destroyed by resettlement and lack of food. In fact, the most successful of the few films he directed was the 1963 version of “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, which Mr. Brook described as “a preserved history of mankind.” Mr. Brook’s 1970 production is still popular Filled with aerial acrobatics drawn from his visit to a Chinese circus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream ended with smiling actors shaking hands of onlookers.

In the “Conference of Birds,” based on a mystical poem, the title birds find a new spiritual understanding when their long and turbulent journey ends at the doorstep of heaven. His 1985 paraphrase of the Mahabharata brought dynasty wars and suffering onstage, ending with another vision of heaven, this time as a place of music, food, conversation and harmony. Mr. Brooke wrote in his memoirs that theater should assert that “light is in darkness” and be a “powerful antidote to despair”.

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