Peter Brook, Legendary British Stage Director, Dies at Age 97


Peter Brook, a two-time Tony-winner, an Emmy-winner, Olivier Award, and recipient of distinguished honors for his contributions to the arts from Great Britain, France, Spain, India, and the United States, died on Saturday in Paris, as confirmed by his assistant. Brook was known for radical adaptations of Shakespeare, his theater treatise The Empty Space, the English-language production of Marat/Sade, directing the film version of Lord of the Flies, and the nine-hour (more with breaks!) adaptation of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. He was 97 years old.

The London-born, Paris-based director was described as “an almost mystical figure often mentioned in the same breath as Konstantin Stanislavsky,” in an obituary by Agence France-Presse. He collaborated with iconic performers like Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Paul Scofield, John Gielgud, and Glenda Jackson. He also worked with Ben Kingsley and Patrick Stewart early in their careers, and Helen Mirren joined his International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris in the early 1970s. 

The son of Latvian-Jewish immigrants to London, Brook was a prodigy, making his professional debut at 17, a production of Doctor Faustus in 1943. From 1947 to 1950, he was director of productions at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. A production of Salome featured set design by Salvador Dalí. He later directed operas for the Metropolitan Opera and the Aix en Provence Festival.

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In 1953 he made his first film, The Beggar’s Opera, a Technicolor musical based on the 18th-century opera by John Gay. It starred Laurence Olivier, Stanley Holloway, and Dorothy Tutin. In 1960 he directed the French drama Seven Days … Seven Nights, for which Jeanne Moreau won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo. In 1963, he directed what is likely his most lasting film, the adaptation of William Golding’s dark novel, shot on location in Puerto Rico. 



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In 1964, however, his adaptation of the play-within-a-play Marat/Sade became a sensation. British Furor Over ‘Filth’ read a headline in The New York Times concerning its premiere in a season that also included Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane. The production came to New York (starring Glenda Jackson, Ian Richardson, and Patrick Magee), and won the Tony Award for Best Play as well as the Best Director prize for Brook. (He had previously been nominated for directing Elizabeth Seal in Irma La Douce, and Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in The Visit.)

Brook directed a film version of Marat/Sade (a project which, should you ever want to conquer a theater-based bar trivia night, has a full title of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade) in 1967.

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