As Glasgow becomes the only British city to host Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. the mammoth stage adaptation of the great Indian epic. we meet the director, and look at the stories behind the poem. the play and the production‘s arrival in Glasgow.
‘He looks edible‘. the Observer profile (quoting Kenneth Tynan) had said ofone of the world‘s finest directors. ‘Like fondant cream or preserved ginger. . .‘ it went on. It was with considerable curiosity then. as well as anticipation. that we waited to meet Peter Brook himself— the man whom Sir Peter Hall has described — with a shade more reverence — as having inspired a whole generation oftheatre directors. and whom actors have travelled the world to work with. Edible. perhaps: gentle. definitely. Brook arrived very quietly in Glasgow to face a bank of microphones and cameras. a small man. who gives an immediate impression ofprecision and courteousness. He sits very still. hands folded patiently. and listens hard to questions. There is something almost fragile about him — as though he had been recently unwrapped — but not because of any preciousness on his part. The famous piercing pale blue eyes sometimes twinkle almost mischievously: ‘Those people you can see who are not wearing ties are actors.‘ he said. inviting the press to speak to them. The un-tied and un-besuited to whom he refered were his company. a striking-looking group of seventeen different nationalities. who have travelled the world playing The Mahabharata. Their arrival in Glasgow (the only British date) is
The ‘no mean my image of I Glasgow is beginning to seem likeadark but closed chapter ; wedged between its buoyant ' industrial past and its booming illustrious present. Now it's a city rewitalised with energy. Symbolically it all started when Glasgow District (‘ouncil borrowed Mr Happy and stuck him everywhere from litterbins
8 The List 15 — 28 April 1988
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significant in many ways for British f theatre. Peter Brook‘s stage work I has not been seen in this country for ten years— a fact that reﬂects partly on the attitude to arts and arts funding in Britain. Though English. he lives and works in Paris and his company's visit here forges a link
Grotowksi the work examined afresh the actor‘s relationship with the audience. using jarring styles to create a theatre of‘confrontation‘. ; and led on to the premiere of Peter Weiss‘s disturbing Marat/Sade. ln
1968 he directed US. which
with world theatre.
Brook has been working in theatre
for forty years. beginning as a
challenged the audience to assess its attitudes to the Vietnam War. and in defence ofwhich Sir Peter Hall, then Artistic Director ofthe RSC. found
h naming ﬁts
student in Oxford. At the age of twenty he was invited to direct at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and went on to produce a series of inspired productions. particularly of Shakespeare. working with Paul Scofield. John Gielgud. Laurence Olivier. Anthony Quayle. Vivien Leigh and Alec Guinness. In 1962 he created a landmark production of King Lear. a bleak. spare and beautiful production. described by the same Kenneth Tynan as wanted to eat him. as ‘incomparable‘.
He did not confine himselfto the classics. however — his interest was in exploring the possibilities oftheatre. in stripping away accretions of artifice. In his book The Empty Space (published in 1968) he inveighed against ‘the deadly theatre‘: ‘In most of the world. the theatre has no exact place in society. no clear purpose.‘ he wrote. and during the early 60s he explored new aspects of theatre with his Theatre of Cruelty season for the RSC. Influenced by Artaud and
GLASGOW N0 MEAN
to London bus sides insisting that Glasgow ‘s Miles Better. There is plenty to smile about in the run up to lWUwhen Glasgow becomes European (‘ity of (‘ulture and the city ‘s confidence is such that it can scoop Peter Brook and The Mahabharata from under the nose of London. succeeding , where London failed tosecurc I
both venue and funding forit.
‘Glasgow has turned a corner in its cultural policy which arguably no other city in Britain. including London. has turned‘ says Neil Wallace. Deputy Director at the Festivals Unit. set up by Glasgow District (‘ouncil last year. The Unit's remit is to co-ordinatc. grant aid and publicise events in the run up to 1990. This centralization alone makes it unique in Britain but even more significant is the political will and very substantial funding behind it. ‘lt‘s a realisation of the sense and economic value to the city of co-ordinating investment in the arts‘ says Wallace summing up the strength and possiblitics available to an organisation which just for 1988 has£l million to spend on culture and the arts. ‘There is ltllpcrcent support.
As a result Glasgow is becoming known for the fact that it has the resources to be able to compete on an international scale for companies such as Peter Brook's. Moreover it hasa sense of urgency and purpose which seems to prevent it from becoming swamped by bureaucracy. ‘With the
himselfin the witness box.
A rebel. perhaps. but Brook‘s rebellion was against the dead hand of custom. the easiness for actor and audience alike which leads to meaningless theatre ‘If a play does not make us lose our balance. the evening is unbalanced.‘ he has written. In 1970 his insight produced another seminal Shakespeare production — his magical Midsummer Night's Dream in which the actors were simply floated. airborne. on trapezes. A leading figure in British theatre at that point. he could perhaps have stayed on to head one ofour major institutions. But those who know him say that it was inevitable that he would leave. Brook‘s brilliant productions of Shakespeare were informed by his respect for the rich variety of Elizabethan theatre. Shakespeare in particular. — and he has often said that the task of modern theatre must be to discover how to recover this combination of integrity and vitality: ‘It is not the ShakeSpearian method
Mahabharata it was a question of going there to invite the company and doing our damnest to get resources‘ says Wallace. While the City ofCulturc nomination put the finishes touches to this enlightened policy Wallace is quick to point out that the nomination only came about as a result ‘ofthe extraordinary achievements of people who have been working here already". It is therefore a central tenet ot‘thc unit‘s policy to grant aid work that is already underway like Mayfest. the Focus on Dance week. and the Folk and Jazz Festivals. Coinciding with the start of the Festival Unit‘s programme is the Glasgow Garden Festival. the biggest public event in Britain this year. completely transforming the national hobby
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that interests us.‘ he writes. ‘It is the Shakespearian ambition. The ambition to question people and society in action. in relation to human existence.‘ Recognising that he could not find a truly living theatre of international language within the confines ofconventional British theatre. he set offon a series ofjourneys.
He moved to Paris and in a dilapidated old theatre there. the Bouffes du Nord. he established his international centre — where a multi-cultural company explore and exchange technique. His company journeyed to Iran. witnessing theatrical rituals that have a sacred meaning for their audience. and creating Orghast. a ceremonial drama'staged on a mountainside. For this, poet Ted Hughes created a
into a £35 million bonanaza of entertainment. spectacle. music. art. dance. and exhibitions. As if to prove the city‘s conviction that investment in arts and culture can reap benefits many times over. the Garden Festival is expected to inject a staggering£llemillion into the Scottish economy. Glasgow is poised to take full advantage of it. The SDA currently has 74 building projects planned or underway in Glasgow alone (out of total of 175 in Scotland) with an overall value of£37.3 million. Amongst these is the St Enoch‘s Centre development where a 260.000sq ft retail complex. with ice rink. multi-storey car park and fast food court is being constructed. the whole enclosed within a huge skein ofglass.