Director Peter Brook, whose innovative theatrical plays revolutionized 20th-century theater, has passed away at the age of 97, according to Nick Hern Books, his publisher.
The directing duo of his children, Simon and Irina revealed his passing on social media, with the former calling himself “the luckiest guy in the world to have had such a beautiful and loving father.” They both agreed that their father had passed away, but neither could say how or where.
Brook, who was born in London in 1925, staged a performance of Shakespeare’s “King John” in Birmingham, England, in the early 1940s before making his directing debut. After premiering avant-garde plays by Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau, he then directed a number of critically acclaimed Shakespeare productions with some of the era’s greatest actors, ranging from a 1955 production of “Hamlet” with Paul Scofield to a European tour of “Titus Andronicus” with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
Peter Brook gained a reputation for defying convention during a lengthy affiliation with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) of the UK. One of his most well-known productions was a Tony Award-winning production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1970, starring Frances de la Tour, Ben Kingsley, and later Patrick Stewart. This production rejected the traditional interpretations of the time with minimal staging, overtly sexual undertones, and globally relevant modern costumes.
According to the group, the play—often referred to simply as “Peter Brook’s Dream”—”continues to exercise a profound influence on theater artists today.”
During his tenure at the RSC, Brook not only directed plays by the English playwright but also “US,” a scathing examination of American involvement in the Vietnam War, and “Marat/Sade,” a Tony Award-winning adaptation of German playwright Peter Weiss’s “Marat/Sade.” After producing more than a dozen movies over his life, including adaptations of “King Lear” and William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” Brook would go on to direct the latter in a well-known 1967 film.
Brook moved to France in 1970, when he took over management of the Bouffes du Nord theater in Paris. He handled not only French translations of Shakespeare, but also pieces by authors like Senegalese poet Birago Diop and Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov.
The International Centre for Theatre Research, a group of performers, directors, and others, was based at the Bouffes du Nord and traveled the globe performing plays and investigating narrative components that may cross cultural boundaries. The trio is renowned for creating a nine-hour version of the classic Indian epic “The Mahabharata,” which Brook later turned into a five-hour film with the same name.
In his final years, Peter Brook kept telling stories from all over the world on stage, including the biography of the Sufi philosopher Tierno Bokar and his adaption of Can Themba’s “The Suit,” which detailed the sufferings of Black South Africans under apartheid.
He was praised for performing outside of traditional theater settings as well. In the course of its trips across underdeveloped nations, his troop performed in abandoned buildings and indigenous villages.
Natasha Parry, an actress, and Brook were wed from 1951 until her passing in 2015.
He was one of the most distinguished actors in theater history, earning not only the aforementioned Tony Awards but also an Emmy, an International Emmy, the Prix Italia, and Japan’s Praemium Imperiale. In 2013, he was made a Commander of the French Legion of Honor. In the UK, he was also made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and a Companion of Honor.