Peter Brook: A Biography by Michael Kustov - review by Patrick O'Connor

Patrick O'Connor

The Rhinoceros in the Wings

Peter Brook: A Biography


Bloomsbury 344pp £25

In 1970 PETERBrook abandoned the mainstream English theatre, in which he had made his name directing every kind of play from King bar to Irma la douce. He assembled a group of actors from England, France, America, Japan, and Africa. They met together for the first time one day in October, in a temporary venue, a school hall on the outskirts of Paris. Brook told the group, 'What is done on the first day of anything shapes everything that follows.' They spent the day constructing a tent of coloured paper in which to perform for each other. They laid out a picnic. They sang and danced, improvising, laughing; a girl passing by came in to find out what was happening. They shared their food with her and put on a show; she was their first audience. This impromptu beginning is well caught, and is the centrepiece of Michael Kustow's affectionate portrait of his friend and mentor. For those of us who never had the chance to see the ensemble on their early journeys, this is the most intriguing part of the story. They eventually performed on three continents, bringing theatre to places that had never experienced it before, and learning skills from many different cultures. One of Brook's statements from the year before, when he was planning what became the International Centre for Theatre Research, sums up what he went on to achieve. 'Although the world cannot be reformed in a day, in the theatre it is always possible to wipe the slate clean and start again fiom zero. Total reform can be put into immediate application.' 

Brook's father was a pharmaceutical chemist, a Russian-Jewish emigre with a healthy disregard for the snobberies of the British inter-war education system. At a parents' meeting at Westminster School, Simon Brook listened while prowess on the sports field was endlessly discussed until he interrupted, 'That's enough about their feet; what about

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RLF - March