BOOK REVIEW / Sage directions from theatre's revolutionary: 'There are no Secrets: Thoughts on Acting and Theatre' - Peter Brook: Methuen, 12.99

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The Independent Culture
FOR ME, Peter Brook is the Renaissance ideal: the Greek mind in the Roman body. He is a philosopher and an idealist who sets about his work with the energy and practicality of a bridge- builder. He has followed Jean-Louis Barrault's maxim, 'Feel passion for everything, but cling to nothing.' His working life has been a fury of creativity and destruction, and it is in this

contradiction that his greatness as an artist lies.

I discovered this on our first meeting. He had seen a production of The Duchess of Malfi I'd directed at the Roundhouse in London, and was instrumental in procuring an invitation to remount the play in Paris. I met him a few weeks later in the backstage gloom of his theatre, the Bouffes du Nord. 'Let me offer you a word of advice,' he said. I leant forward in eager anticipation, a young apprentice awaiting masterful initiation. 'You must ask for a lot of money and eight weeks' rehearsal.' (I got the second, but not the first.)

The impression one gets of Brook from this slim volume (a triptych comprising two lectures delivered in Kyoto and the transcript of a workshop for students in Paris) is of a man in perpetual motion: a restless, questioning spirit, a prospector painstakingly sifting gold from dross, a rigorous scientist, a philosopher, a craftsman and an indefatigable explorer of the chaos of human creativity: 'As always, one has to go into a forest and back to find the plant that is growing besides one's own front door.'

There Are No Secrets is Brook on his best form and is the natural, though belated, sequel to The Empty Space (1968). That book, distilling a decade of experimentation at the RSC, and the dazzling Stratford production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which came soon after it, rewrote the theatrical agenda for a generation and heralded an era of radical formal experimentation. By emphasising process rather than product, and by defining this process as a quest which was at the same time both 'holy' and 'rough', Brook encouraged young theatre-makers to seek their own freedoms. Studio spaces, little black boxes, sprang up all over the country, allowing the classics to be explored in intimate relationship to the audience, and new writers further to deconstruct the well-made play.

It is unlikely that these essays will have such a revolutionary impact, but they do offer a stimulating insight into the mind of a great artist and teacher. It is both a practical and inspirational document, asking the most profound and simple questions on the art of theatre. Brook's answers often hit the bullseye. On Shakespeare, for example, he asks 'why the verse exists and what absolutely necessary function it has to perform'. And responds: 'In fact, Shakespeare, as a practical man, was forced to use verse to suggest simultaneously the most hidden psychological, psychic and spiritual movements in his characters without losing their down-to-earth reality. Compression can hardly go farther.'

He addresses a wide range of issues, from actors' training to the dangers of sponsorship, from stage design to the thorny problems of theatre architecture. ('Theatre is a fundamental human need, while 'theatres' and their forms and styles are only temporary and replaceable boxes.')

Brook's humanity and internationalism prevent the book from becoming parochial. He has travelled widely and he draws his illustrations from a lifetime's people-watching, whether in a remote Iranian temple, a Bengali village or in London's West End. Perhaps the most revealing part of the book is Brook's account of his masterly production of The Tempest. On the one hand, it tells of a deft, almost scientifically precise journey towards the inner meaning of the play, while on the other it is an account of indecision, self- doubt, frustration and chaos. Both impressions are undoubtedly true.