Saturday, February 06, 2010

Peter Brook

Peter Brook is in London at the moment - his production of 11 and 12 is at the Barbican this month, and there's also a retrospective of films. On Thursday I went to see his film about Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men, which he introduced himself - and today I've been at a lecture he gave for the Directors Guild.

I wrote a while ago in this blog about the importance of finding Elders in our culture, and receiving wisdom from them in the same way it's done among First Nations peoples. Peter Brook is certainly an Elder among directors. He's 85 next month. When I was just starting out, I was reading his books and studying his productions as "the model", and realising that all the model told me was that you had to keep changing, and that there was no specific doctrinaire method. It's amazing that he is still making fresh and challenging work - as I hope I will be in 40 years time.

Of course, this guru status isn't entirely a positive thing. The audience at this afternoon's lecture (which was actually more of a chat) was packed with famous faces - Trevor Nunn and Imogen Stubbs, Richard Eyre chairing it, Mike Leigh, Michael Morris.... so it was important that Brook didn't simply allow himself to be feted. Asked how he'd liked to be remembered, he replied that he didn't want to be remembered at all - except perhaps on a small scale by people he had worked with directly, and to whom he had passed on some sense of the craft. Of course, he will be remembered - if only for the books, which will doubtless be turned into "a theory" - but I think he's right to be cautious about this. Our art of theatre is ephemeral - and so are our lives. Maybe all the archiving and writing about theatre is actually just over-loading us. Maybe we need a little less theory and a bit more playfulness. On Thursday, he carried the same idea further, when Graham Sheffield introduced him in "god has condescended to come among us" terms, and the whole audience applauded for ages before he'd even said a word. That introduction and those applause, he said, were very dangerous. We must never elevate a human being to the status where what he says becomes something we will accept without question.

It seemed a strange way for him to introduce a film about the man he has acknowledged as a spiritual guru - but maybe appropriate for just that reason. Gurdjieff, after all, was a decidedly complex figure: I remember Robert Lepage's version of him as a naked devil shuffling around Tony as Frank Lloyd Wright in The Geometry of Miracles. Brook's Gurdjieff is very 1970s - a rebel determined to "seek truth" at any cost; and at times the film seems very dated and a bit pompous in its self-conscious spiritual significance. But it is also a thinly veiled autobiography, at its most interesting when it explores Gurdjieff / Brook's determination to keep looking for a better way of living, for something that feels deeply truthful, for endless journeying both physically and internally. It's also very clear that the artistic / spiritual search is not something which you can do alone. Gurdjieff's group of close friends work with him - and they are played by Brook's regular actors, like Bruce Myers and Natasha Parry. And the whole thing ends with Gurdjieff learning ritual dances, which look remarkably like the warm-up exercises at the Bouffes du Nord.

It's very true that you can't do these things on your own. I've been much helped by Paul coming into the company recently, and by the strengthening of the relationship with Polygon. But it's been a few months since I was in a rehearsal room, and I'm really missing the creative companionship of performers. The creative work is the real space where the search can be conducted.

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