Peter Brook: 'The most depressing thing about theatre today is excessive seat prices'

The legendary auteur and director Peter Brook talks about theatre and his latest piece, which opens as part of the Edinburgh International Festival later this month

Peter Brook
Peter Brook
© Ernesto Rpdriguez

The remarkable 93 year-old Peter Brook's latest piece is The Prisoner, which he created with his long-term collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne for Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Brook took over Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in 1971 and has been making theatre in that beautiful space ever since. The company are resident at the International Festival this year, and Brook answered our questions about The Prisoner, which runs between 22 and 26 August in Edinburgh before heading to the National Theatre in September.

How do you feel about coming to the Edinburgh International Festival with The Prisoner?
The whole of theatre is about being together, and that's the meaning of the Edinburgh Festivals as well.
In a good audience, the more varied the audience is, the better, and so I'm looking forward to bringing The Prisoner to Edinburgh for this.

How long did The Prisoner take to create and could you take us through some of your research processes?
With Marie-Hélène Estienne, and others, we made different moments but none of them really corresponded with what we thought the story demanded. About a year ago we decided that now was the moment for The Prisoner.
As for the process of preparing, it is always a discovery and the only answer is to be found within a performance.

Where did you research or take inspiration from for the piece?
The source of The Prisoner is precisely narrated in my book Threads of Time, and it started with a real-life story that I lived myself about 40 years ago in Afghanistan.
I saw a man who had been condemned to not sit inside, but to sit outside, of the prison for his whole sentence, staring at it. I never found out what this man had done but the questions surrounding his situation led me to feel that I couldn't leave this story, because it doesn't leave me.

The Prisoner
The Prisoner
© Simon Annand

How would you describe what happens in the play?
The Prisoner looks at mysterious themes and questions, which relate to everyday aspects of our lives. It's like a myth coming from a Greek tragedy, far far away, but at the same time, it's a detailed story for us today about our situation, here and now.

What's the most exciting thing about theatre today?
The fact that our shared work can be useful and meaningful to others.

What's the most depressing thing about theatre today?
Our main fight is against the monstrosity of excessive seat prices. This was the secret of the Bouffes Du Nord when it first started, under the guidance of my invaluable co-director, Micheline Rozan.