Meeting Peter Brook

#24 Summer 2001

Meeting Peter Brook

The other day Peter Brook was giving a talk about "Hamlet" at a public theatre in Setagaya and so I made sure I went to Tokyo to be there. Throughout the one hour talk, sat in the front row listening to Peter Brook's voice I could feel adrenalin surging through my body and I knew I had to meet him face to face.


As soon as the event finished, me and my companion, Mr Kubodera, pushed our way backstage and asked to see Brook. Even though we didn't have an appointment, and he had never met us, surprisingly Brook gladly accepted us. Cheerfully accepting us without apprehension was probably because I asked him a question right after his talk (the question being: is the charm of Shakespeare in the play's construction or its characters?). But this great performer Brook is a unique person and he has this power which embraces everyone. As I held his big soft hand in my right hand I said "I have one more thing to ask. I am at present making "As You Like It" but I don't understand it fully. Mr Brook, could you please sum up this play in a few words?"


The reason "in a few words" was not thought of as a reckless demand was because during his talk Brook had perfectly summed up various Shakespeare works in around 15 seconds. Brook said "As the title says, as you like it!" and smiled. I have a feeling I replied with something like "Oh really. That's all there is to it?"


What Brook was saying with those words is not at all certain. But I felt that for some reason my methods had been affirmed and I was delighted. On the bullet train back to Sendai I was warmed by several memories: the story of Brook's "A Midsummer Nightfs Dream" as related by my superiors in the acting club when I had just started university; a passage from a book by Akutagawa Hiroshi which I read at that time; and Brook's pupil, Oida Katsuhiro, who spoke at the Cambridge experimental theatre.


Akutagawa writes this about the first time he met Brook in Jean Luis Barrow's backstage room. "There was somebody there ahead of me. A middle-aged gentleman, good skin colour, a little chubby and wearing black. His side locks were white and he looked older than the owner of the room. His blue eyes were looking at me. His appearance would make one think of a Charlie Chaplin before make-up." But the passage that left a greater impression on me is where "a depressed, unhappy looking" Barrow, despite Akutagawa repeating himself, keeps pronouncing him as "Akitagawa". And when corrected, Barrow "would look surprised and turn his face to the side". Contrastingly Brook repeated "Akutagawa" with the correct pronunciation.


When I talked about this to Oida, he lifted his head nostalgically and laughed. That's because Oida was there. Mixed in with around 20 British actors I once experienced Oida's workshop and was able to touch upon Brook's acting methods that Oida understood. My heart was jumping with the excitement of wanting to return to Japan and make Shakespeare. That was in November 1992.




Where exactly is the Arden Forest in "As You Like It" for us Tohoku people? This question was troubling me since finishing "Macbeth". If the place could be decided, the characters would follow. A relaxing place. Not a forest and not the sea. I can't remember the first time I thought "hot-spring" but it was definitely from smelling, for the first time in a while, the sulphur smell of Naruko hot-spring, where I once stayed with my grandma before I started elementary school, to help treat her appendix.


When I realised that my Arden Forest was the sights of a hot-spring resort when I was a child, I began to conceptualise our "As You Like It" in a hot-spring resort of around 1955-65. It should be a cheerful, softly smirking, foolish, slightly sad comedy. Rather than faithfully conserve the structure of the original, I had the idea of trying to make the charm of the characters at the hot-spring resort shine as much as possible.