Peter Brook says a long goodbye to his Paris theatre
In his only British interview, the veteran theatre director explains why he has chosen to hand over the day-to-day running of the Bouffes du Nord – but insists it’s not the end
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 December 2008 13.53 GMT
Extended au revoir … Peter Brook. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe
He is perhaps the most influential stage director alive, the man who deliberately broke every rule in theatre, stripped performance spaces bare and let the audience’s imagination do the work. At 83, Peter Brook flinches at the word retirement. But after 34 years at the helm of his revolutionary Paris theatre, the Bouffes du Nord, he has announced a gradual transition to ease in a new generation of directors to run the space.
When Brook seized on the Bouffes du Nord in 1974, it was a dilapidated former music hall and variety theatre. He is slowly handing over to successors, Olivier Mantei and Olivier Poubelle, who both have strong musical backgrounds. The world-famous innovative space, which Brook styled as the ideal theatre, is now likely to focus on the strength of its acoustics in staging a mixture of popular music, opera, classical music, dance and theatre.
Speaking to the Guardian today, in his only British interview, Brook said he had decided against doing a press conference, issuing a press release or making a grand announcement. He sees the move not as a handover but as a “gradual transition from the inside”.
He said: “I wanted to look very realistically to the future. I can’t say I’ll stay here forever. Everyone says something has been created almost invisibly in this theatre over 34 years. A lot of thought went into what would be the proper continuity. I didn’t want to just place someone here and say, ‘Here, take over.’ I never talked about retirement as retirement is something forced on you by the state if you are unfortunate enough to work for the state. This has always been a private theatre.”
Over the next three years, he will slowly hand the reigns over to Olivier Mantei, deputy head of the Paris opera company Opéra-Comique and currently head of the musical programming at the Bouffes du Nord. Olivier Poubelle, a theatre entrepreneur specialising in modern music at some of Paris’s most cutting-edge popular music venues, will work alongside him.
Brook said both Mantei and Poubelle had been part of his team for many years and would allow the Bouffes du Nord to capitalise on one of its most “striking” features: “the marvellous quality of sound there, whether for classical, popular music, very popular music or solo singing. This is in the tradition of the theatre which began its life as a music hall.”
He denied that this would see music taking over from theatre at the space, saying both men were “hugely experienced” in theatre. It was more a question of the current trend for a “coming together of diverse forms of theatre and music”. Brook said the transition would take place in the runup to 2011; he will still direct his own work, including a forthcoming adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He said he did not want to throw someone cold into the role who would then feel they had to slavishly follow his own way of working. “
The first thing I wanted to establish – having spent all my life fighting against tradition and saying everything in the theatre must always be in a state of evolution, must always refuse to have a method, a way of working – was to avoid [appointing] a successor who would have to try and prove my line, which is against the whole life force of the theatre.” Asked what he had learned from his 30 years at the theatre, he said: “Never ask yourself what you have learned … only ask yourself what are the circumstances which are different from last year. In that way, you can apply last year’s lessons. Experience means that the ground is prepared. As in Hamlet’s last lines, ‘The readiness is all.'”