Avant Garde Theatre, 1892-1992

By Christopher Innes | Go to book overview

8

MYTH AND THEATRE LABORATORIES

PETER BROOK

The search for a universal theatre language, one potential form of which Lindsay Kemp developed out of pop culture in the mid-1960s, has become a major and continuing theme in the work of Peter Brook. Unlike almost all the other representatives of the movement, Brook became a convert to the avant garde at a relatively late point in his career, having already made his name during the twenty years after the Second World War in brilliant, but conventional Shakespeare productions, and as a director of Covent Garden opera and light comedy (Ring Around the Moon, Jean Anouilh; The Dark is Light Enough, Christopher Fry; Penny for a Song, John Whiting). In the early 1950s Anouilh and Fry were being credited with reintroducing poetry into the naturalistic modern theatre; and it was through Anouilh and Cocteau that Brook came to a concept of non-verbal ‘poetry of the theatre’ (where ‘the scenes are linked like the words of a poem’ 1). Despite the conventional nature of the plays, such a concept is analogous to Barrault’s ideal of ‘total theatre’. At the same time, despite a pragmatic box-office approach to the stage—not only reflected in Brook’s repertoire during those decades, but also still evident in the way he has managed and publicized his later avant garde productions—this interest in poetic drama could be seen, at least in retrospect, as signalling his coming rejection of ‘deadly theatre’—the standard fare of classical museum-pieces, social problem plays and commercial comedy.

Fired from the Covent Garden Opera House over a controversial updating of Salome in 1949 (another coincidental link with Lindsay Kemp), and breaking out of conventional limits in small ways during the 1950s-staging ‘scandalous’ American plays like Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (notorious for including a homosexual kiss) or Tennessee Williams’ incestually provocative Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—by 1960 Brook was asking such questions as:

is there nothing in the revolution that took place in painting fifty years ago that applies to our own [theatrical] crisis today? Do we

-125-

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