Academic journal article Framework

An Excellent Lesson in Partisan Theater, 1968

Academic journal article Framework

An Excellent Lesson in Partisan Theater, 1968

Article excerpt

The staging of a play by Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company unfolds before our eyes. It is US, a sequence of tableaux on the war waged by the United States in Vietnam, which includes scenes of debate between Brook and his actors, as well as a sequence involving a demonstration by pacifist intellectuals (including Brook and his actors) on the streets of London.

The personality of Peter Brook, the most celebrated of En glish theater directors, has spilled over from the stage to the screen since Moderato Cantabile (1960) and Lord of the Flies (1963). This left- wing intellectual sometimes takes to the streets, as we see him toward the end of the film, under the watchful eyes of "bobbies" who, it would appear, have the good sense to keep calm while accompanying this pro cession and its placards. But above all he has the intelligence to say what his actors and he himself think of the great problems of the moment, and to say it in terms which go much further than current politics.

In noting that the title of the per for mance, US, can also be read as "us" (ourselves), we can interpret that we are all involved (everybody- not just the British allies of the Americans). This gives it a certain spirit not far removed from that of Brecht. The style, however, is different. It derives from symbolic mime rather than from the conceptual narratives of classical theatre.

In this respect, the play and the film about the play constitute a valuable document about the role of the interpreter. It is clear from the debates and testimonies of the actors- who were not satisfied with being merely performers- that Peter Brook fashioned the stage play with their participation. This was true teamwork.

The old Viet nam ese myths, the period of colonization, the upheaval caused by two successive wars- all these give rise to scenes which are mimed, recited, shouted and sung. A half- naked actor on stage represents a country struggling to survive great adversity. Painted in a variety of colors and rolled up in a canvas, this gives a dramatic sense- of division and chaos- to a kind of multi- colored painting. Various other mimed tableaux follow: the fiery suicide of a Buddhist, the bombardments, the torture- all stylized with such mastery that one is both struck by their realistic power of evocation and their elevation to the level of mythic ritual. …

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