An Essay on British Theatre Director, Peter Brook

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The following will be covered throughout this essay on the British theatre director, Peter Brook:

Introduction – This will explain what will be discussed until overall conclusion

Section to be covered:
• Brook’s methodologies and practice.
• Influences and how these applied to his work
• Shakespeare, and how his methods applied to the socio-political context of the time
• How his work has influenced others

Submitted: August 13, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 13, 2016




An essay I wrote upon theatre practioner, Peter Brook. Please, let me know what you think.


Within this essay, there will be an in-depth conversation about the British theatre director/producer, Peter Brook. This will be a discussion into his key influences that inspired him to put into his own work, background on his days whilst working at the RSC, his socio-political aspect of working with different cultures any contemporary practioners of today that have either learnt from Brook’s practices, or have inspired them to carry off into their own creative work.

To Peter Brook, it is all about moving forwards rather than backwards and looking to what the future has to offer. His indication on the matter is that theatre is changing – should be changing. After all, it was he who brought a new dynamic style of theatre to how performance is seen today.  First of all, he wanted the actor/performer to establish a relationship with the audience. It was about having a good human connection between these two entities that would establish a bond between how good theatre is constructed. Brook wanted naturalism to out on the stage, imitating life itself in order to capture what it is like to be human. If he could get actors to commit to this, getting people to engage and sympathise with the characters, then the actor has succeeded his/her expectations. If not and the audience becomes bored and un-affected by this, then the actor has not succeeded in achieving that state of reality. Brook wants you to have a mutual connection with one another in order for it to become true.  Keep reacting as it will build on itself. It will become more realistic and achieve that naturalistic quality. One of the reasons why it could not have gone the best it could have would be that the artist, or artists are pressured. This is no good according to Brook, who feels very strongly that if one becomes pressured, or is drawing on that sense of becoming pressured, then they are instigating a very un-naturalistic stage presence. It is with that realisation that the actor must explore through their own emotions in order to sustain a character persona to become truly authentic. As a character, the actor must feel this and know what they are all about: Soanes (2013).

The audience will always know when it is a good performance or not: Theriault (2009). They can tell by how the subject speaks on stage to what they are recreating is true. Good human connection with one’s audience is where it lies to becoming a great performer to the best of your abilities. The actor must capture that essence of real life – of actually being in the room. This goes to show how powerful theatre can be and how it can have an overall effect on how you come to see things.  Having that connection will drive you to discover your own inner emotions as the performance commences. Brook holds a very strong opinion to this and to his actors, that you cannot direct true emotion. He calls on this as non-directional directing; meaning that a performer cannot bring fourth an existing emotion and hold that authentic connection. The actor must know in the character’s mindset and their purpose to what is happening in the moment.

One of Brook’s early on ideas in which he conceived was the idea of ‘the empty space’. This he developed around the late 1960s, in which he says that a man can walk across an empty space and that is all it will take to create a piece of engaging theatre. The fact that there is something happening – actually happening and you are witnessing it and a piece of theatre has been witnessed. This is using the thematic principles; relation to people and then building upon it. With the theatre, it is always about examining its purpose and nature. What is it that they need to see and how can this be made to engage. With all of this you will be able to interact and make it become a piece of real life. You will not only awaken the audience into a new realm, but you will also feel it in yourself that it has become true. That is all you need: Book Rags (2016).

Many of Brook’s practices are concepts derived from a majority of his contemporaries, in which he incorporate into his work and made it his own. That idea of the empty space could have easily had become influenced by Polish born practioner, Jerzy Grotowski and the poor theatre. This idea required only the actor’s voice and body on stage - nothing else. There was no set, no fancy lighting or effects and lavish costumes to fancy it all up. This was for only the actor/s to be able to express and transform upon a bare platform. This was often always done with very little clothing as Grotowski wanted to examine the human body and to see how the muscles worked as well as how the body could physically transform into different body structures, making themselves look quite grotesque in some cases. This is only what Grotowski was interested in, as well as trying other different uses of how to move with the body along the way. With Peter Brook, it is lightly similar to his theory on the empty space. You do not need to see a backdrop of props, nor scenery to make something interesting to watch. Only to see two performers, maybe just one, moving their body, transforming themselves into different things/creatures is fascinating in itself and is something worth seeing Drama Online (2016). This then leads into the work of another practioner whom Brook takes his inspiration from. The French theorist Antonin Artaud and his work experimenting with the Theatre of Cruelty; a medium in which Brook has drawn upon.

This style contained elements of symbolism, surrealism and focused substantially on shock value. It was Antonin Artaud’s thought that there was too much of a barrier between executants and the viewing public. He wanted to remove this element completely, so that performers could interact with sitters making them part of the experience. This links in with Brook’s thought on the human connection. Encyclopedia Britannica (2016) Although the theatre of cruelty was a new form of experimental theatre, it began to use extreme elements of violent lighting and scenes of a graphic, unsettling nature, grotesque nature. It was something that would be turning an audience against all normality and transporting them into an entirely new dimension. Artaud was convinced that mankind was becoming repressed by the world and by these violent actions in front of a crowed. To him it was a liberating against the real world and wanting to get out of its madness; when really his shows are pushed to the very extreme. This is where Brook and Artaud differ in opinions. His style was similar to Artaud’s characteristics, but was more about creating an emotional experience, rather than spiritual release. Eventually, Brook’s styling’s on the theatre of cruelty were highly praised, whilst Artaud had become so perplexed in his methods that he was submitted into an insane asylum for nine years. You can’t win them all. Since then this phenomenon has become highly praised and has become a big influence and a new revelation on 20th century theatre. Theriault (2009)

This is where Brook throws the book out on conventual styles and standards. His productions and shows tend to be quite bold in terms of scale and performance. Theriault (2009) However, he still likes to stick to that contemporary feeling in whatever he chooses to do next. This even goes for classical plays, precisely those by William Shakespeare. In 1970 Peter Brook was invited to the RCS in Stratford-upon-Avon (birthplace of Shakespeare) to direct a whole years-worth of shows for them. This included his now famous adaptation of the comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’; which used high physicality and acrobatics. This new take on the classic play was also directed in a radical- psychedelic eenvironment, representing the era it was being performed in. This how Brook presents things, bring on a new take on the Elizabethan play by adding gymnastics, creative styles and a much more contemporary feeling as though the audience can be familiar with it, despite it still being in Shakespearean text. Independent (2011) It brings a brand new response, approach and attitude to the work. Brook even to this day likes to revert back to Shakespeare and goes off to many other countries to try the text out.

Dickson (2008) says that he incorporates English work into other cultures and backgrounds and plays it to different audiences, often going back to Shakespeare.  With this, he enjoys traveling around the world, teaching his view on theatre and enjoys giving them that freedom of always sticking to that contemporary theme and how it becomes adapted. Moody (1995) Through that it then becomes very much stylised, especially for Brook as an internationalist, watching these people incorporate their own culture into these works, hence giving them a comfort blanket and be familiar. You can now that his style continues to stick to a new generation wherever he goes as his work continues to expand and become even more revolutionary. It is not always about asking what has been learnt to this man but rather what is different from last time; and if so, how can it become better? Brook takes his wok very seriously and whenever asked about if he would re-do one on his old productions – he declines. To go back and do something from the past is irrelevant to him. The only thing that he cares about is to still find new ways of representing real life on the stage and embracing it at every new opportunity as there is always something new to be shared: Billington (2015). There is always something present to behold in the theatre, as there is never any reason for going back to the past: Jones (2008). He is a storyteller and remains to tell us these stories as an audience as we become gripped an enthralled in the action. He is linking diverse beliefs into classical English theatre, adding a sort of playfulness which never seems to age: Chrisafis (2008). He respects his crowed of spectators - his audience, as he does all of this for them in order to make them happy.

It is evident that through Brook’s career, that he has influenced a great number of contemporary practioners. He has also become influence to many drama lectures and teachers, who actually use his methodologies in their own teachings. Morrison (2010) is one on those people. In his class room, he uses diverse methods of teaching, having taken elements from other practioners of drama: something Brook also did. Skills such as non-verbal language: a communication around actor’s where you only collaborate through gesture alone – no dialogue. The one handed conversation: where only your hands are involved to create exaggerated actions involved with facial expression. Pictures re-created only by photographs: where as a performer you must improvise a section about the photograph was taken, to then leading up to it actually happening. Finally - working with masks: drawing from impulses from inside so that you become something/somebody else, creating exaggerated and bewildering characters. This is a sort of exercise derived from the likes of Jacque Le’Coq that Brook stylised. Even American actor Kevin Spacey uses something similar in his master-classes in the UK and USA. Wearing the masks transforms you into something you are not, something you are filling to take on and without feeling silly or embarrassed by the nature of it, instead you feel free.

Even when he is teaching today, he still requires his privacy, as he feels it is very important to help develop an actor’s ability that they are undisturbed and left to focus: Rick (2011).  Retirement has never crossed his mind. Why should it? He continues to strive through country to country, developing and creating something new, unique and wonderful.


Alphabetical Bibliography:


Billington, M. (2015) ‘Still centre stage at 90: Peter Brook, human earthquake of modern theatre,’ The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed at: 17 May 2016).

Book Rags (2016) The Empty Space Summary & Study Guide. Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2016).

Chrisafis, A. (2008) ‘Exit stage slowly: director who tore up the rules of theatre makes way for new blood,’ The Guardian.  Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Dickson, A. (2008) ‘Peter Brook: a life in theatre,’ The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Drama Online (2016) Poor Theatre. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016) Theatre of Cruelty: Experimental theatre. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Independent (2011) Marat/Sade: The play that began a stage revolution. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Jones, A. (2008) Peter Brook: The director who wrote the book. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016)

Moody, D. (1995) Peter Brook's Heart of Light: ‘Primitivism’ and Intercultural Theatre. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Morrison, M. J. (2010) ‘My theatre workshop with Peter Brook’, The Guardian, 12 February. Available at: (Accessed at: 17 May 2016).

Rick. (2011) ‘Peter Brook’s International Centre of Theatre Research,’ Rick on Theater, 23 August. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016)

Shillito, R. (2013) ‘Rehearsal Techniques,’ Drama, 22 September. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Soanes, S. (2013) Mini Workshop Exercise: Peter Brook. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Theriault, S. A.  (2009) ‘The Development of Theatre: Peter Brook and the Human Connection,’ Student Pulse. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

© Copyright 2018 Robert Price. All rights reserved.

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