Peter Brook

Authored by: Maria Shevtsova

The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare

Print publication date:  April  2010
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415400442
eBook ISBN: 9780203932520
Adobe ISBN: 9781134146482


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At the youthful age of 30 in 1955, with five Shakespeare productions already behind him, Peter Brook staged Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Earlier generations of directors had thought the play’s atrocities unstageable, but Brook, undaunted by conventional attitudes, openly embraced its carnage and, according to The Times, successfully created ‘an atmosphere in which the horrors can take hold of us’ (17 August 1955). Apart from directing the play from a clearly defined viewpoint, Brook aimed for cohesion between action and atmosphere by designing the sets and writing the music as well – a precocious desire for total control that he was to temper subsequently by commitment to ensemble work. Indeed, the horrors sustained by this unitary atmosphere could ‘take hold’ because Brook, instead of portraying them literally, had stylised them in the manner of Chinese and other Asian theatre. Thus, Vivien Leigh as Lavinia, whose hands had been severed by her enemies, appeared in a star-studded cast including Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quale with red ribbons hanging from her wrists for blood. Her mouth covered with red silk indicated that Lavinia’s tongue had been cut out.

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