Wise words from Peter Brook

Wise words from Peter Brook

Robert Tanitch reviews Peter Brook’s latest book

Tip of the Tongue: Reflections on Language and Meaning by Peter Brook (Nick Hern Books £7.99)

Peter Brook, now 92-years-old and one of the great stage directors, is famous for his productions of Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Titus Andronicus King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and plays by Anouilh, Genet, TS Eliot, Marat/Sade, The Mahabharata, etc, etc

This little book is a quick-read and its nuggets will primarily appeal to the theatrical profession and aficionados. He contrasts the speed with which Shakespeare dashed off his plays with the slowness with which Samuel Beckett wrote his works. Beckett constantly suffered from writer’s block.

Brook reminds the reader of the subtle differences between American and English. Did you know that when the English say something is quite good, they are saying it’s tepid, but when the Americans say something is quite good they are saying it is superlative?

Brook remembers how at 23 he directed Boris Godunov at Covent Garden without any operatic experience and quickly realized that in the opera world only dictatorial methods worked.

There are brief mentions of Laurence Olivier (grimacing behind The Times newspaper, working his facial muscles on a train journey) and Frederick Valk (often incomprehensible as Othello but so passionate that articulation did not matter). There are tributes to Madeleine Renaud (speaking Beckett’s Not I at lightning speed) and to Paul Scofield (“who never soiled his mind with theory and philosophy”) and who was a great King Lear.

I shall now quote three of Brook’s apercus:

  • Don’t take anything for granted. Go and see for yourself
  • An artist must go both with and against the tide at the same time.
  • Making the plays of Shakespeare “contemporary” easily lead to journalistic vulgarity.

Brook also reminds us there is no limit to the way “To be or not to be” can be said. You may be interested to know that some famous Hamlet actors and Prince Charles no less got together and had a lot of fun coming up with a variety of interpretations. Do watch RSC Live on Youtube. It’s hilarious.

To learn more about Robert Tanitch and his reviews, click here to go to his website