THE QUALITY OF MERCY: Reflections on Shakespeare. Peter Brook
Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 978 1 84842 261 2
Review: Alexander Ray Edser
A book you’ll not get tired of.
What a gem this little book is.
Peter Brook is one of the greatest of our architects of modern theatre production. In terms of Shakespeare texts he was in the forefront of directors looking at these plays afresh. Not burying the plays beneath showy concepts, but freeing them from their Establishment ossification, finding ways of revealing the inner play, if you like; enabling us to see in them, our own lives reflected.
It’s daunting, perhaps, even to think about such a colossal intellect, daunting to imagine what it must be like to carry it around.
I say this because in THE QUALITY OF MERCY we seem to meet a very human Brook; it had been in my mind to say the book is a series of musings. But now, I think, it would be truer to say it’s as if Brook is sitting down with us and telling us over a cup of tea or glass of wine little stories about his past. They’re loose-knit tales, wandering around, yet offering, each one, a coherent unified whole. Each section is a polished gem in its own right.
Each chapter is based around a particular production – an early R and J, or Olivier and Vivien Leigh in TITUS ANDRONICUS, John Gielgud in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (yes, that production.) Yet as he reveals the development of ideas for the production, he reveals other truths too – why and how Shakespeare is timeless, or a tirade against the lack of depth in Conceptual Art. He demonstrates again and again how insightful productions come about – truly come about rather than being planned at a drawing board stage. They don’t come about by accident, of course, but through loving management and sensitive thought, through working with a team.
Each page you turn is a new delight. And all written is such an unpretentious, gentle, often amusing style. A joy.