with a fragmentary, deconstructed reinterpretation.
Now in 1990, Brook insists that he is approaching afresh what he regards as . Shakespeare’s most difficult play, arguing that hlS previous attempts were either unsuccessful or incomplete. ‘I’m taking the same gamble for The Tempest that we took with Carmen,’ he says, enunciating each word with English precision. ‘My belief in Carmen is that although it has often been done in big opera houses very brilliantly, the best big show is less interesting than what can appear if you pare it down to the bone. The Tempest is a play even the scholars are not quite sure whether it was written for a big performance as a masque at court or if it was only later used that way: whether Shakespeare was willingly
saying, “I will now write a libretto for a musical comedy,” or whether he was going along with this I form, but actually writing secretly his own very
compassion. pardon, forgiveness, love, freedom. In other words The Tempest touches a nerve. because it corresponds not with what we have under our noses. but with what we most lack.’
More than three months in preparation and still subjected to daily rehearsals. La Tempéte in Brook’s hands becomes a clearly presented humanitarian plea. Jean-Claude Carriere’s translation is fresh and alive, neither archaic nor anachronistic and surprisingly understandable to one with only a basic grasp of French. Brook is apprehensive about bringing a foreign language production to Glasgow, but has nonetheless enjoyed the challenge of bringing the translation to life.
‘I’m doing Shakespeare in French because I’m in France.’ he explains. ‘There’s a very interesting work with the translator and that is the struggle to get as much ofthe original as you can. The closer you get. the more the play comes to life. Whether you like it or not, you have to recognise that something is lost. What’s gained is that the language becomes more direct, because the archaic flavour disappears. But you lose the natural marvel of the poetry and the poetry’s music that can’t be translated. In Shakespeare there is so much thought and meaning that you’re still left with something fabulous, but still there is a loss. But even that has its positive side which is that the actors then have to fill the gap with something coming from themselves, so that the
Sotigul Koyate (right) as Prospero, congratulates Bakary Sangaré’s Ariel (left) tor kicking up a storm.
private play. Nobody can ever say which is right and wrong. My own personal hunch is that the notion of The Tempest as a big spectacle — that marvellous thing that a designer, a director and a choreographer can do — is not as interesting as the other play.’
Indeed, the characteristic quality of La Tempéte is its simplicity. When Caliban, played by David Tin Drum Bennent, rolls onto the ﬂat sand stage in a cardboard box, the performance space looks almost cluttered. Four canes mark out an oblong playing area, empty but for a scene-setting rock in one corner. When Brook wants a storm he suggests it by precise, No Theatre-inspired stick movements. And when Ariel, an unspritely Bakary Sangaré, reports back about how he has brewed up the storm, his only visual aid is a small red boat balanced on his head.
A guiding philosophy in Brook’s work over the past two or three decades has been what he describes in The Shifting Point as ‘the instinctive feeling that the play needs to be done, now’. That means it must be right for the specific theatre. its audience and the political mood of the times. In what ways then is The Tempest right for now?
‘It is right,’ he says, ‘because it is obviously illustrating the big themes, the preoccupations of the moment. There are two Shakespeare plays which in totally extreme ways could be the play for now. One is Troilus and C ressida, because it’s all about the cynicism and the despair of war. There’s a war in the desert that has lasted for years — it’s got everything in that way that could be contemporary. The Tempest expresses what everyone some way or other is longing for, because it’s nowhere around us and it’s the moment we need it most of all, which is tolerance
audience gets the impression that the author wanted, but it goes through different channels.’
Before meeting Brook, I’d been waiting in the theatre’s cosy, cosmopolitan cafe-bar as the actors came down after the day’s rehearsal. A good two-thirds of the cast were also in The Mahabharata, but if anything they represent an even greater spread of world cultures and races than in the great Indian epic. I put it to Brook that people might perceive the international company in terms of the kind of imposed directorial ‘style’ he detests.
‘It is almost a self-evident fact.’ he says, ‘that a good theatre group is a colourful theatre group. The international group is a group ofpeople who are very different from one another. Beyond a certain point, it’s not to be stressed that “Oh look, they’re Africans acting with the Japanese! That’s a bit naive. I hope people will come to feel that this in the 20th century,'in the let century, should be recognised as sufficiently normal not to be overstruck with it. I don’t think that one should use casting to make statements. You use casting to play the play. The internationalism is a statement by the group as a whole over its work in general, but not in relation to a particular play.’
And just in case anyone is overawed by the name ‘Peter Brook’ being several sizes bigger than anything else on the theatre posters, it must be said that the director’s work is characterised not by ﬂashy external stage tricks, but by a transparency that makes it impossible to pinpoint what his input has been. ‘To go to see what somebody has done to a production is decadent,’ he says. ‘It isn’t the real reason for going to see a play ofquality. It must be to encounter the experience of the play itself.’
La Tempéte is at Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 30 0ct—Sat3 Nov.
Potted highlights at Peter Brook‘s 45m: career as a director.
1 Saiome The 1949 production was remarkable for an unusual choice of set designer. ‘It did not
a stunt,‘ said Brook at the time. ‘Quite simply Salvador Dali seemed the best man in the world for the job.’
! seem to me that this could be seen as |
2 Titus Anomalous The play might not be the finest in the canon, but the fast moving 1955 Stratford production successfully cast both Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
3 King Lear According to Kenneth L
Tynan, Brook's 1962 Stratford production was ‘a mighty philosophical farce.‘ that brought him ‘closer to Lear than I have ever been‘.
4 Lord otthe Flies In his 1963 low-budget movie adaptation of William Golding’s classic novel, Brook shot his public school boys like a documentary to admittedly mixed critical acclaim.
5 Marat/Sade Brook combined the theories of Artaud (violence and cruelty) with those of Brecht (signs and slogans) in his 1964 production of Peter Weiss’s lunatic asylum study of the French Revolution.
6 08 Read it as us or U.S. , this experimental and highly ’ controversial 1966 performance was a passionate attempt to come to terms with the Vietnam War. It finished with the entire cast sitting on stage looking out at the audience until they were embarrassed into
7 A "tantrums: night‘s 0mm Brook’s 1970 production was described as a ‘dream circus‘ in which the actors appeared as ﬂying trapeze artists. Plate spinning, magic and swings.
Atticaan You had to bein
ln-Salah, Algeria in 1972 to catch the most moving perfo
ance of the l
International Centre of Theatre g
Research’s three month journey
across Africa. The company came , across the market town, rolled out its carpet and improvised around a pair of shoes. A one-off.
9 m It A moving adaptation of Colin Tumbull’s The Mountain People, The 1k (1975) was a study of a real African tribe which was denied its traditional land, which in turn led to poverty, starvation and barme
10 The W 2500 years of Indian mythology condensed into a mere nine hours. You couldn’t sit down for days afterwards, but it established Tramway as a venue. First seen in France, 1985.
8 The List 26 October— 8 November 1990