(Andrew Dickson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/27.)
Anticipation is already high for Peter Brook’s return to Britain next month with a new piece of theatre based on his canonical version of the Mahabharata. Brook, now 90, is regularly feted as the most influential director alive; his fleeting trips to the UK have taken on the aspect of a revered elder paying a visit to the waiting faithful.
Yet alongside Brook’s name on the posters for Battlefield is another, not often noticed: that of Marie-Hélène Estienne. Trusted lieutenant, enforcer, co-writer, co-creator: however Estienne is described, she has been at Brook’s side for the last 40 years. For the past 20, he has barely made work without her. Yet she remains an enigma, and in hundreds of articles about Brook she barely merits a mention. Calling her unsung doesn’t quite do it: she might be the most famous theatremaker no one has ever heard of.
We meet in Paris at the Bouffes du Nord, the former music hall hemmed in by sari shops and Turkish grocery stores a few streets from the Gare du Nord. When I enter the cramped conference room backstage, Estienne is waiting: hair in a sharp pixie crop, a clear, forthright gaze. She is charming and happy to talk, but there are many things to do today. As I fiddle with the recorder, she checks her watch.