Return of the King
The return of Peter Brook to the Tramway after more than a decade is a sparkling highlight of this year’s theatrical calendar, writes Allan Radcliffe
When it comes to living legends of the theatre world, they don’t come much more distinguished than Peter Brook. Having helmed his first play in London in 1943, the hugely influential experimental theatre and film director rose to prominence in the 1950s with several major productions for the RSC, but it was his 1967 film adaptation of Peter Weiss’s play, the Artaud/Brecht-influenced Marat/Sade and his passionate, hugely influential exploration of the issues facing theatrical performance, The Empty Space, that marked Brook out as a true innovator.
Brook is perhaps best known for his exhaustive, nine-hour adaptation of one of the major Sanscrit epics of ancient India, The Mahabharata. Originally staged in 1985, the ambitious production toured the world over the course of four years and was later truncated to a mere six hours for television.
The story of this mightily ambitious stage marathon became entwined with the inauguration of one of Scotland’s most extraordinary theatre spaces. Glasgow’s Tramway was launched as a direct result of the UK-wide search for a space that had the capacity to house what would be, in 1988, the only UK performances of The Mahabharata. He returned to the space he helped create with productions including La Tempête and L’Homme Qui … and was last here in 1997 with Oh Les Beaux Jours (Happy Days).
His latest production, 11 and 12, which arrives at the Tramway as part of an international tour this spring, is an English-language adaptation of a play Brook created in French, Tierno Bokar, adapted from a work by the African writer Amadou Hampaté Bâ. The piece explores a conflict in West Africa under French occupation, and depicts how a dispute over whether a certain prayer should be recited 11 or 12 times leads to a massacre. While the production features a fascinating epic narrative, the themes of violence and tolerance, religion and its place in everyday life are also extremely prescient.
Brook himself has said of the themes driving 11 and 12: ‘For Christians and Muslims alike, God through his prophets has given to mankind a clear and simple commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. Today we see that no rational thought, no intelligent debate, no social analysis has ever influenced nor can explain the endless current of hatred that pours through history.’
For Brook aficionados or theatre-lovers new to his particular dramatic vision, 11 and 12 is likely to be one of the shining highlights of the year ahead. Tickets go on sale on 15 January – don’t miss out!
11 and 12, Tramway, Glasgow, 30 March–3 April.