Peter Brook

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It is noted in many books that near the start of his career, Peter Brook was attracted to both plays and techniques that expressed human contradiction. He often wondered, though, whether there were any modern playwrights who could possibly equal the richness and complexity of Shakespearean verse, and often complained about the improbability of ever finding material to work on or to produce as stimulating as that of Shakespeare. When, in 1964, Brook received a play entitled The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (Marat/Sade), by German playwright Peter Weiss, it is also noted that Brook felt he had finally encountered the challenge of Shakespearean theater he was looking for. Not only was Marat/Sade an incredibly well written and unique approach to theater as a whole, its incorporation of music and movement, song and montage, and naturalism and surrealism within the text created the perfect passage, for Brook, from his commercial past to his experimental present, as well as a way for both the playwright and the director to deal with the concept of theater as therapy; a rather ironic, yet at the same time clever, idea seeing as how the play itself is conducted within the confines of an asylum, with the inmates themselves as the stars. One of the most complex aspects of presenting Marat/Sade was its large and eclectic cast of characters and also its incorporation of a play within a play. On stage, these points were, looking at the opinions of a majority of both the audiences and the critics, presented successfully by Brook and the cast he worked with. From the prison guards who loomed in the background, clothed in butcher aprons and armed with clubs, to the half-naked Marat, slouched in a tub and covered in wet rags, forever scratching and writing, to the small group of singers, dressed and painted up as clowns, to the narcoleptic but murderous Charlotte Corday, Weiss and Brook offered a stage production that both engaged and amazed the audience, while at the same time forced them to question their role as the audience; no better exemplified than at the very end of the play, where the inmates, standing menacingly at the edge of the stage, actually begin to applaud the very people who applaud their performance, aggravating and confusing some, but forcing most t...

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...m, though they are quite safe behind a large facade of iron bars. This technique corresponds to the menacing way that the characters address the camera throughout the performance, and creates the necessary feeling, for the viewers, that no such barrier is available to protect them as they are drawn in uncomfortably closer to the inmates by Brook’s camerawork. We begin to question whether or not the soliloquies, spoken directly into the camera instead of to the protected aristocrats who originally played our ‘part’ of the audience, are still merely just a theater convention, or if the insanity of the performers is used as a catalyst for we, ourselves, to feel threatened directly by what is spoken. We also begin to question whether or not the inmate is even looking at the camera to address the audience, or is simply insane, and addressing the air around them, adding yet another layer to such complex characters. Creating such questions within the audience’s mind also seems to create, for most, the aura of discomfort and skepticism that Brook was aiming to achieve, and reached quite successfully.

Lunatics, Lovers, and Poets by Margaret Croyden
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