Blog | Non-Fiction | Theatre

Peter Brook: The Empty Space

. 2 min read

The Empty Space by Peter Brook is one of those books of which I'm ashamed to admit I only just read it. In my defence I could point at the other books I've read in recent years and the countless books I've read in the past. Still, I wish I had read it 10 or 20 years ago. It is indeed, as it says on the back cover of my Penguin paperback edition, required reading for anyone working in dance or theatre.

The entire book is brimming with ideas and insights and Peter Brook writes with great passion about theatre and the process of making theatre.

I have discovered one minor error though. On the final page Peter Brook writes that "As you read this book, it is already moving out of date." He was wrong. It is as relevant as when it was first published in 1968. The Deadly theatre is deadlier than ever and some companies that once explored what Peter Brook called the Holy, Rough or Immediate theatre, have turned deadly: Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, Rosas, NDT, Batsheva, yes even the Volksbuehne am Rosa Luxemburgplatz.

"But all is not movement, all is not destruction, all is not restlessness, all is not fashion. There are pillars of affirmation. Those are the moments of achievement which do occur, suddenly, anywhere: the performances, the occasions when a total experience, a total theatre of play and spectator makes nonsense of any divisions like Deadly, Rough, and Holy. At these rare moments, the theatre of joy, of catharsis, of celebration, the theatre of exploration, the theatre of shared meaning, the living theatre are one. But once gone, the moment is gone and it cannot be recaptured slavishly by imitation - the deadly creeps back, the search begins again." (p. 151)

Some of the most memorable theatre performances I've seen in recent years all capture this rare moment when everything falls into place and comes to life: Elevator Repair Service: Gatz, Forced Entertainment: Bloody Mess and Schlachten! directed by Luk Perceval.

I could quote a passage from almost every page.

"There have been times in theatre history when the actor's work has been based on certain accepted gestures and expressions: there have been frozen systems of attitudes which we reject today. It is perhaps less obvious that the opposite pole, the Method Actor's freedom in choosing anything whatsoever from the gestures of everyday life is equally restricted, for in basing his gestures on his observation or on his own spontaneity the actor is not drawing on any deep creativity. He is reaching inside himself for an alphabet that is also fossilized, for the language of signs from life that he knows is the language not of invention but of his conditioning."

Raymond Queneau wrote the same when he observed that "the classical author who writes his tragedy according to certain rules he knows is freer than the poet who writes whatever comes to his mind and who is a slave of rules he does not know".

Art consists in inventing new metaphors, in giving way to new meanings.

And now I am ashamed to say I know I have seen some performances directed by Peter Brook himself but can't remember a single one.... I wish I had seen Marat/Sade though.