Director Peter Brook Dies at 97 | Playbill

Obituaries Director Peter Brook Dies at 97

Mr. Brook was a three time Tony winner, known for his unorthodox approach to traditional plays.

Director Peter Brook passed away July 2, at the age of 97. His loss was confirmed by his long term publisher, and the BBC.

Mr. Brook's career spanned eight decades, and included exemplary work onstage in opera, plays, and musicals, as well as work on screen in film and television. Mr. Brook was nominated for four competitive Tony awards, winning two, and received a special Tony award for Outstanding Achievement in the Musical Theatre for his reimagining of the opera La Tragedie de Carmen.

Born March 21, 1925, to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants living in Chiswick, England, Mr. Brook directed his first production, Marlowe's Dr Faustus, in 1943. That production was soon followed by a revival of The Infernal Machine, and a brief tenure at Stratford-upon-Avon, where Mr. Brook assistant directed productions of Romeo and Juliet, and Loves Labours Lost in the home of playwright William Shakespeare.

From 1947 to 1950, he was the director of productions for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; his tenure was controversial, in particular a highly debated production of Salome, which featured set design by the surrealist Salvador Dalí. 

Mr. Brook was heavily influenced by the work of Antonin Artaud, and his ideas for Theatre of Cruelty, which Mr. Brook undertook alongside Charles Marowitz for the 1964 season at the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

In the late 1950's, Mr. Brook came to the United States, where he directed the original production of The Visit, which was the final production of married couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, and the musical Irma La Douce. They were followed by the play Marat/Sade, which cemented Mr. Brook as one of the most esteemed directors of his generation. Marat/Sade began at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was a deeply complex exploration of the Marquis de Sade and the inmates at an asylum. In 1966, Mr. Brook won the Tony for Marat/Sade, and five years later, he received both the Tony and the Drama Desk award for his startling reimaging of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

His production featured a plain white, boxed in set and relatively few props or set pieces. Actors were dressed in either factory-worker clothes or colorful baggy suits, and performed carnival acts, including the trapeze, juggling, and balanced plates while performing one of the Bard's most popular plays. The production was a rousing success, and is considered one of the most influential productions of Shakespeare's work in the 20th century.

Peter Brook

Mr. Brook remained associated with the Royal Shakespeare Company until 1978, and it was under his directorial hand that productions such as Titus Andronicus starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, King Lear starring Paul Scofield, and The Tempest starring John Gielgud came to the stage.

In 1970, Mr. Brook and Micheline Rozan founded a theatre company, the International Centre for Theatre Research. The group consisted of multinational actors, artists, dancers and musicians, and was later renamed the International Center for Theatre Creations. In time, they would establish a permanent base, the Bouffes du Nord Theatre, and Mr. Brook would remain the artistic director until 2008, at which time he relinquished the reins to Olivier Mantei and Olivier Poubelle, although he remained closely connected to the company.

In 1985, Mr. Brook directed a nine hour long adaptation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, first staged in a French quarry outside of Avignon. The production toured the world for four years, and was later adapted into a six hour television miniseries, and a three hour film. While the production is considered a seminal example of cross cultural theatre, it has received mixed reviews from the South Asian community.

Mr. Brook's films were primarily adaptations of his stage work, including Marat/Sade in 1967, an anti-Vietnam war piece entitled Tell Me Lies in 1968, King Lear in 1971, and a 2002 television version of Hamlet which starred Adrian Lester. However, he did direct a handful of films intended only for the screen, including a black-and-white adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in 1963, and Meetings With Remarkable Men in 1979.

In the 1970's, Mr. Brook moved to France, where he became an illustrious part of their experimental theatre community. He continued to create until the end, with his final production being The Tempest Project alongside his longtime collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne.

Mr. Brook is predeceased by his wife, actress Natasha Parry, to whom he was married for 64 years. He is survived by their son and daughter.

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