(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian 10/3.)
Sixty-five years ago, Kenneth Tynan identified the qualities of a young Peter Brook as “repose, curiosity and mental accuracy – plus, of course, the unlearnable lively flair”. Now 92, Brook may walk more slowly than he did but those gifts are still abundantly there. He is as busy as ever, with a new book full of aphoristic wisdom, Tip of the Tongue, and a new stage project, The Prisoner, due to open in Paris next year.
When we meet in London, he has just caught up with a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre, which he calls “one of the greatest musicals I’ve ever seen – a perfect combination of palpable emotion and dazzling spectacle”. To those who think of Brook as some kind of theatrical monk, dedicated to empty spaces and a refined austerity, his rapture over Follies may come as a shock. But Brook’s early career embraced everything from Shakespeare and boulevard comedy to opera and musicals. He directed Irma La Douce in the West End and Harold Arlen’s House of Flowers on Broadway.