West End to dim lights in honour of ‘visionary director' Peter Brook

The theatre and film director has been remembered as a ‘giant of European theatre'.

London’s West End theatres will dim their lights in memory of British theatre and film director Peter Brook who has died aged 97.

Brook, who had lived in France since the early 1970s, won many awards including Tonys, Emmys and an Olivier across his seven-decade career in the arts, and directed famous names including Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Adrian Lester.

As a tribute to him, West End theatres will dim their lights before performances for two minutes at 7pm on Monday, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) has said.

Peter Brook death
Peter Brook outside Buckingham Palace after receiving the Insignia of a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour from the Queen (PA)

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Brook died in Paris at the weekend. His publisher, Nick Hern Books, also paid tribute, saying he “leaves behind an incredible artistic legacy”.

Born in Chiswick, west London, on March 21 1925 to Lithuanian Jewish parents, Brook attended Westminster School, followed by Oxford University.

His first production was of Dr Faustus in 1943 at the Torch Theatre in London.

Between 1947 and 1950, he served as director of productions at the Royal Opera House, where he staged an experimental and headline-making version of Richard Strauss’s Salome with sets by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

He directed Sir Lawrence as Titus Andronicus in Stratford for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1955 and was subsequently invited to assist artistic director Sir Peter Hall on further works. These included a 1962 production of King Lear starring Paul Scofield.

In 1970, Brook moved to Paris, where he set up the International Centre For Theatre Research, which travelled widely in the Middle East and Africa as part of a three-year “pilgrimage”.

His troupe would perform for rural communities, often with only a carpet for a stage.

Four years later he reopened a partially derelict theatre, Bouffes du Nord, close to the French capital’s central Gare du Nord station and transformed it into the new home of the ICTR.

Although the theatre was renovated, Brook decided not to redecorate the interior so it retained a distressed look that would become its hallmark.

Brook was also among the first in theatre to focus on increasing the diversity of his productions and in an interview with the Evening Standard in 2019, he described his method of casting as “colour-rich” as opposed to “colour-blind”.

He continued to direct and write into his later years and had recently stage directed The Tempest Project with his long-time collaborator, French playwright and screenwriter Marie-Helene Estienne.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) described Brook, who was a RSC honorary associate artist, as a “visionary director” and a “giant of European theatre”.

Erica Whyman, acting artistic director of the RSC, said: “I was privileged to get to know Peter in the 1990s at the National Theatre Studio where he generously shared his practice with younger theatre-makers, and later when I presented his work at Northern Stage.

“He was a mesmerising person, fascinated by the potential of human beings to communicate the most delicate feelings and thoughts to one another, by respecting the commanding simplicity of an ‘empty space’”.

Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, said: “Peter Brook was the singular theatre practitioner of the last century, both fearless and peerless in his inquiry into the breadth and depth of the form. It is with great sorrow that we mourn his passing, and celebrate his extraordinary life in art.”

Brook was awarded both the Praemium Imperiale and the Prix Italia, and he was made a CBE in 1965 and a Companion of Honour in 1998.

In 1951, he married actress Natasha Parry and they have two children – Irina, an actress and director, and Simon, a director.

Parry died of a stroke in July 2015 aged 84.

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