A Production Reconstruction of

The Royal Shakespeare Company Production



Directed by Peter Brook

Music composed by Richard Peaslee

Lyrics by Adrian Mitchell

Playwright of record Denis Cannan


For Professor Don Boros
Richard Gaffield-Knight
Copyright © April 30, 1992


The important thing is to pull yourself up by your own hair. To turn yourself inside out and see the whole world with fresh eyes.

-- Marat

Thank God our art doesn't last. At least we're not adding more junk to the museums. Yesterday's performance is by now a failure. If we accept this, we can start all over again from scratch.

-- Brook, The Shifting Point

During the opening sequence, The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) actor/musicians representing America, Britain, France and Vietnam, softly sing a song about a caterpillar, named ICARUS SCHMICARUS (What makes you think you could FLY? FLY? FLY?). After the song, VIETNAM kneels and is doused with gasoline by AMERICA and sacrificed by fire. The company then tells the History of Vietnam, from its birth, through the division and oppression by the French to 1966, after the number of American troops in Vietnam increased from 40,000 military advisors to 300,000 troops in less than 18 months. Halfway through the 1st Act, at a Quaker style memorial for a young American father's self-immolation by fire on the steps of the Pentagon, the company, through song, press conferences and torture school, debates the logic of our need, out of love for the people of South Vietnam, to protect them from destruction by the people of North Vietnam. It is realized it may be necessary, of course, to sacrifice the entire population of the South to save democracy in that part of the world. As we argue, diplomacy fails and Haiphong is bombed by the U.S., escalating the war against North Vietnam, now aided by its socialist allies. After the 2nd Act opening SONG: ROSE OF SAIGON, which tells of our love for Vietnam, MARK lights a match to immolate himself. Although GLENDA persuades MARK from setting fire to himself to protest the escalation of the War, will we continue to burn Vietnam? Bob enters carrying a black box on a table and releases white butterflies from the box, one at a time. He lights a lighter and reaches into the box again. Picking out another butterfly, he burns it, symbolically, destroying Vietnam.

The end of the play brought silence, and a confrontation between the United States, Vietnam and the Aldwych Theater audience. The actors stopped acting and remained still, looking into the faces of the audience, awaiting their exit from the house. The private task of evaluating their own personal views in the light of the day's events and the evening's performance filled their thoughts.

Even before he departed from the institutional stages of Great Britain, Peter Brook was known to his colleagues as "the pathfinder." As Britain's first star director to emerge without serving any kind of apprenticeship, he hacked out a route for others to follow. As Peter Hall, one of the directors with Brook of the RSC and recent director of The National Theatre of Great Britain says, "He paved the way for all of us; he made us feel that if he could do it, we could try too." His 1950 production of Ring Round the Moon, at the age of 25, set the tone for postwar theatre. His 1964 Theater of Cruelty season for the RSC launched the age of Artaud on the British stage. In 1966 his collaboration with writers, actors and musicians, and funded by the British taxpayer, produced US, a work about the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, and British non-involvement at home.

In between, he was in perpetual transit between the West End, films, classical production, and opera house: a Pied Piper pursued by an audience who knew that he would always take them somewhere they had never been before. Then in 1970, just four years after US, he withdrew from the magic triangle of London, Broadway, and Right Bank Paris to begin the real journey. He was 45 at the time, and professionally he had nothing more to prove: which is a danger point in any career. We are told that the news of Brook setting up a little research group (C.I.R.T.) with no production deadlines evoked a whole network of escapist associations.

The production of US arose from experimental laboratory work, which is another way of saying that it was turned up by a series of attempts to probe certain questions: how can current events enter the theatre? Why should they enter the theatre?

Brook writes in the `Introduction' to US, The Book of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) Production:

There are times when I am nauseated by the theatre, when its artificiality appalls me, although at the very same moment I realize its formality is its strength. The birth of US was allied to the reaction of a group of us who quite suddenly felt that Vietnam was more powerful, more acute, more insistent a situation than any drama that already existed between covers. All theater as we know it fails to touch the issues that can most powerfully concern actors and audiences at the actual moment when they meet. . . .What is living theatre? Whatever we know, is not it. Whatever is labelled theatre, isn't. Whatever is defined as theatre, misses the point. Whatever has been handed down to us, has been cheapened out of recognition. Whoever claims to know what theatre was or could be, doesn't. We are now before a long period of perpetual revolution, in which we must search, attempt to build, pull down and search again.

In The Shifting Point he writes:

When I begin to work on a play, I start with a deep, formless hunch which is like a smell, a color, a shadow. That's the basis of my job, my role -- that's my preparation for rehearsals with any play I do. There's a formless hunch that is my relationship with the play. It's my conviction that this play must be done today, and without that conviction I can't do it. I have no technique. If I had to go in for a competition where I'd be given a scene and told to stage it, I'd have nowhere to start. I could produce a sort of synthetic technique and a few ideas, built from my experience of doing plays, but It wouldn't be much good. I have no structure for doing a play, because I work from that amorphous non-formed feeling, and from that I start preparing.(1)

Preparing for Brook means going toward that idea. Making that set, destroying it, making it, destroying it, working it out. What kind of costumes, colors; defining the language which will communicate that `formless hunch.' Finally, a form emerges, not a closed form, because it's only the set, the basis, the platform. Then the work starts with the actors.

Brook is continually provoking the actor, stimulating him, asking questions and creating an atmosphere in which the actor can dig, probe and investigate. Together they sort of plow the whole fabric of the play. As they turn it over, forms emerge that begin to be recognized and in the last stages of rehearsal, the actor's work attacks the dark, subterranean life of the play. When this happens, this underside illumination by the actor, the director is placed in a position to see the difference between the actors ideas and the play itself.

His work with other members of the team enriches and broadens his understanding of the text so he sees it in a new way. So the essential step of fixing the shape of the play takes place as late as possible -- in fact not until the first performance. But once the play has passed its test of fire before an audience, it will still be in danger, because a performance has to find its shape each time anew. His creative process is circular. In the beginning, there is reality without form. At the end, when the circle is completed, this same reality may suddenly reappear -- grasped, channelled and digested -- within the circle of participants who are in communion, divided into actors and spectators.

Brook asks us in The Shifting Point:

Do we know where we stand in relation to the real and the unreal, the face of life and its hidden streams, the abstract and the concrete, the story and the ritual? What are `facts' today? Are they concrete, like prices and hours of work -- or abstract, like violence and loneliness? And are we sure that in relation to twentieth-century living, the great abstractions -- speed, strain, space, frenzy, energy, brutality -- aren't more concrete, more immediately likely to affect our lives than the so called concrete issues? Mustn't we relate this to the actor and the ritual of acting in order to find the pattern of the theatre we need? (2)

Convinced by Samuel Beckett and his own work in film, Brook also believes that in the theatre, even more than in the cinema, we need no longer be bound at all by time, character or plot. We need not use any of these traditional crutches -- and yet we can still be real, dramatic and meaningful.

Brook and the RSC started US from what for them was a great need -- to face up to the call, the challenge of the Vietnam situation. They realized that no finished, work about Vietnam existed; they knew that they couldn't go to an author, give a commission and say, "We would like to order the following masterpiece about Vietnam." Instead of doing nothing, or waiting until the hoped for masterpiece came under the door, or over the transom, they said, "Let's begin!" He says that ten years before, to get a group of English actors together to improvise on any theme would have been extremely difficult; the most prominent thing you'd come up against would be the English actor's unwillingness to throw himself into something uncharted. Today, he tells us in The Shifting Point, to ask a group of actors who have worked together before to do scenes of torture, brutality, violence and madness is frighteningly pleasurable for all concerned. By using improvisation and unlimited probing of the physical and creative limits of the actor, US took off, moved and developed with alarming ease.

A sense of the potential finds the space, the actors, the form of expression, a potential that is there and `yet unknown, latent, only capable of being discovered, rediscovered and deepened by the active work of the team. Within this team, everyone has only one tool, his/her own subjectivity.'(3) The director and company realized that the work of finding the language and mise-en-scène of US demanded several options be faced and exercised simultaneously. This rehearsal process, which I will discuss in more detail later, continuously offers new choices as soon as the old ones are used or discarded.

In the final stages of rehearsal Brook pushes and encourages the actor to discard all that is superfluous, to edit and tighten. And he does it ruthlessly, even with himself, because for every invention of the actor, there's something of his own. What remains is an organic form. Because the form is not ideas imposed on the play, `it is the play illuminated, and the play illuminated is the form.'(4) The whole work of the director, according to Brook, is to take the hints and hidden strands of the play and wring the most from them. In other words, to take only what is embryonic and to give it birth.

What developed from Peter Brook's hunch this time is the Royal Shakespeare Company's shared narrative of the history of Vietnam, through a series of tableaux consisting of floats on a truck, accompanied by gong and music played and sung by actor/musicians. The tableau series depicts Vietnam's birth, division and oppression by the French and others through the escalation of U.S. military forces in 1966. During the narrative there is pantomime and other forms of physical action, such as the creation of an action painting by a writhing tortured Vietnam and a few other actors which was developed from the company's study of Happenings. During two-and-a-half hours the cast tells the story of the war and of those who fought and lived in North and South Vietnam during this period and those who did, or sometimes didn't, protest it at home. The set that evolved was sparse, brightly lit, and mostly suggestive of a noisy Saigon, where the trash goes uncollected and the people are burned.


The RSC leases the Aldwych Theatre in London where US was performed from October through March during the 1966-67 season. The Aldwych, a proscenium theatre built in 1905, seats 1,030 (Stalls, 488; Dress Circle, 276; Upper Circle, 242; Boxes, 24) and boasts of a audience of 80% of capacity, mostly from the surrounding community.

AUDIO: 147 Lord Chamberlain

Two days before the scheduled first performance, the Lord Chamberlain called the Chairman of the Board of Governor's of RSC, George Farmer, on his fishing holiday in Scotland. He requested Farmer cancel the show because, in his opinion, it was "bestial, anti-American and communist." However, he agreed to discuss the show with Farmer after he had a chance to see a run-through. After lunch the next day, the run-through began. The tension was unbelievable, and the electricity which came off from the Quaker meeting, the burnings, the journalist monologue, and above all the song, MAKE AND BREAK, was riveting. Lord Cobbold had consistently told Farmer that he did not wish to see either Peter Brook or Peter Hall. But when Farmer scurried for a taxi after the first act, both Peters scurried after. The Lord Chamberlain awaited them in full court regalia, complete with sword. After some delay, during which Hall and Brook waited on the street, he agreed to see all three. It was decided after much concern expressed by the Lord Chamberlain about a possible hasty exit of the American Ambassador if he came the first night, that the show would be licensed, with objections of the Lord Chamberlain negotiable, subject to the submission of alternatives.

AUDIO: 305 Lord Chamberlain requires.

I want to show some slides and play some songs to give you an idea of the design elements: sets, lights, costumes and the sound of the show.







The work on US began at a meeting of Brook, Geoffrey Reeves and Albert Hunt at Brook's house December 1965. At that meeting Brook talked of two subjects which were very much on his mind: the Vietnam War, or what Londoners could do about it, and how an awareness of the war could affect life in London. If you said you cared about Vietnam, how did this affect the way you spent your day? The other question in Brook's mind that night was a very simple one from the Bhagavad Gita: "Shall I fight?"


Reading through the scripts that came into the Royal Shakespeare Company, they realized that no individual playwright, working alone, seemed able, at the moment, to handle a direct statement of this size. Another Shakespeare could only emerge out of a situation in which groups of actors and writers had established a common language. So, they must first forge a common language. It was understood that a writer would be involved in the process from the start -- taking part in the discussions, working over the material they would provide him with and later sitting with the actors and finding material in rehearsals. At the end of the first meeting, Brook repeated the question: "If

I say I care about Vietnam, how does this influence the way I

spend my time?"

A team began to take shape while Brook was in New York with the Marate/Sade. Adrian Mitchell, lyricist, Richard Peaslee, an American composer for Mitchell's songs in Marat/Sade -- Charles Wood agreed to join the team as playwright. At the Fulbright Committee Hearings on Vietnam and china, there was a statement by one of the key witnesses, Dr. Fairbanks, "Great nations on both sides are pursuing their alternative dreams." They began to see the war as a collision of dreams.

They studied Happenings and talked about ways of involving the audience physically. A ritualistic theater game was invented by Hunt, at an art college. From the ceiling hung a structure, built on crosspieces that would spin round if it were touched. Hanging from the structure were dummy bodies, tin cans that made noise, brightly colored balloons, sheets of pink cellophane, rubber tires. If anybody collided with these objects, the whole structure whirled round and up and down in color and movement. Through this moving structure, five players felt their way, with paper bags over their heads. The bags made them look weird and helpless. Two carried blues flags, two carried red, and one, wearing a bag decorated with stars and stripes, carried a stick. The player with the stick hunted for the others. When he caught anybody, he raised his stick. A referee, wearing a frock coat and a black bowler, blew his whistle; everybody froze; the referee, led the victim to the front of the stage; the lights shrieked -- and when the lights came on, the victim, holding a flag, was lying dead at the front of the stage, and another player, pushed through a door at the back, had taken his place. The hunter never knew whether he had caught a red or a blue.

VISUAL: Men with paper bags over heads, "Now with respect to China."

The game was a dramatic event. the paper bags found their way into rehearsal, and even into the first night: and the alternating sequences of noise and silence pointed towards an over-all pattern.

All met with the actors for the first time on July 4th in a ballroom in Gower Street. Most of the actors had worked with Brook before, either in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Theatre of Cruelty season at the LAMDA Theatre in London, or on the Marat/Sade. Several had recently been with the Marat/Sade in New York and then made the film version in London.

They were aware from the start that they weren't going to make a documentary about Vietnam. "We were going to examine our own attitudes, to ask ourselves, as totally as possible how the Vietnam War affected us." (5) Brook went on talking about an image that had been haunting him - the image of the Buddhist monk who had poured gasoline over himself and burnt himself to death as a protest against the war. What, asked Brook, could drive a man to such an action? How could we begin to understand the totality of his commitment? As Brook described this burning, vividly and with great intensity, the actors suddenly became very intent. The subject had clearly taken root in Brook's mind as one of the central images of the play.

Brook stressed that the actors were not going to write the play. Explaining the working process, he said the actors would improvise on material he or his associate directors would offer them, and a playwright would take and shape what the actors produced into a text. Brook also invited the actors to bring material of their own, which several of them did.

When he asked the actors who had been to New York to describe the differences between American life and life in England, they all said that there was more violence in America. They talked about taxi drivers that shouted, and about violence they felt on the streets at night. But there was nothing specific and nothing more violent was mentioned than in the streets of a northern English town, like Bradford. Then a quiet-spoken American man from the back of the room, Joseph Chaiken of the Open Theater, told of a friend of his who had been hitch-hiking in the country and had been picked up by a group of men in a car. They had taken him off, beaten him up and tied him to a tree. They were talking all the time about Vietnam, but none of them had ever been there. They were playing out a myth.

After lunch, the actors were divided into two groups, about a dozen in each. One group stayed to work on improvisations arising out of that morning's discussions. Each actor was asked to choose a character, an American they knew, and show this character in a situation in the transport strike the previous Christmas. Later, the actors were asked to model themselves on film stars and play out typical situations. Frank Sinatra trying to pick up Debbie Reynolds in Central Park, etc. The later scenes were much more accurate than the earlier ones and it was clear that the actors were more at home with the myth than with their superficial glimpses of American life.

At the end of the first day, Brook said he had an idea for a final image of the show. After the noise and violence there would be a silence. And in the silence there would be released -- a butterfly.

The cast tried to analyze the connection between the society that produced Happenings, and what was going on in Vietnam. But, apart from the obvious statement that both Happenings and the war were the products of American society, there was very little they could say. Then the actor, Mike Williams, suddenly demonstrated the very clear and penetrating kind of language they needed. He found an image which made the connection in concrete terms. He put a chair on a table, crumpled some paper and took a match. Then speaking very simply the words of the letter about a butterfly Happening, he climbed onto a chair, and pretended to drench himself in gasoline. As he reached the words, "Isn't it wonderful to listen to something you normally look at?" he struck the match. The words revealed the immolation as a dramatic event - and the action placed the words in a wider context.

During the first few days of rehearsal, their search for a language had developed in three main directions: exploring American life through naturalistic improvisations; investigating American popular myths; and looking at the intellectual world of the Happenings which developed the "action painting" sequence.

AUDIO: 64 Process

Brook writes in The Shifting Point:

The actor's task is infinitely more complex than that of the newsreader. The way opens when he sees that presence is not opposed to distance. Distance is a commitment to total meaning: presence is a total commitment to the living moment; the two go together. For this reason, the most eclectic use of rehearsal exercises -- to develop rhythm, listening, tempo, pitch, ensemble thinking of critical awareness -- is most valuable provided none of them is considered a method. What they can do is to increase the actor's concern -- in body and in spirit -- for what the play is asking. If the actor truly feels this question to be his own he is unavoidably caught in a need to share it: in a need for the audience. Out of this need for a link with an audience comes an equally strong need for absolute clarity. (6)

Other challenges were beginning to emerge. How could actors begin to compete dramatically with pictures of children whose faces looked like very burnt toast? All they could offer in this show was themselves in London, unburnt by jellied gasoline. How could they convincingly simulate bombed villagers? They could only confront a particular audience on a particular night with their own, unblistered bodies. Whatever was communicated finally would come, not through a skilful imitation of pain, but through that confrontation. To that extent, each performance would be a Happening. A threatening quality of life and death immediacy would be created at each performance, with every audience.

After lunch Brook began to explore ways of forging the material into the language they were seeking. He worked with Ian on Johnson's Omaha speech, by making the speaker first older, approaching death, then younger, so the reading became bright and open. Finally, as a scene from Beckett, reading the scene from 300 years old onward. The phrases began to take on clarity and great force.

Brook talked again to the actors, summing up the work of the previous three weeks, pointing out that every fragment was self-contained. The actors were made aware that they were trying to create a new language of acting, by collecting bits and pieces from everywhere, digging deep inside for responses, but at the same time, being open to outside stimuli. Acting is, of course, a continuous culmination of these two processes.

In four weeks the rudiments of an acting style had been created - the actors were now able to move much more flexibly, transforming from one character mood to another. A language of theater based on the mixing of different elements and their constant transformation was being tentatively formed. And most of the material of the first act had been thrown up in rehearsal at one time or another.

What was needed, after all the exploration of different styles, was a concentration of physical and emotional discipline by the actors. Jerzy Grotowski, director of the Polish Teatr Laboratorium at Wroclaw, who had been invited by Brook to work with the company for 10 days, arrived with one of this leading actors. (7)

AUDIO: 40 Robert Lloyd's impressions of Grotowski


AUDIO: 90 Grotowski, Bob's private thoughts about the work.

Brook wrote an article for the Royal Shakespeare Club newspaper, Flourish, which summed up Grotowski's impact on the company:

Grotowski is unique. Why? Because no-one else in the world, to my knowledge, no-one since Stanislavski, has investigated the nature of acting, its phenomenon, its meaning, the nature and science of its mental-physical-emotional processes as deeply and completely as Grotowski. He calls his theatre a laboratory. It is a centre of research. It is perhaps the only avant-garde theatre whose poverty is not a drawback, where shortage of money is not an excuse for inadequate means which automatically undermine the experiments. In Grotowski's theatre as in all true laboratories the experiments are scientifically valid because the essential conditions are observed. In his theatre, there is absolute concentration by a small group, and unlimited time. So if you are interested in his findings you must go to a small town in Poland.

Brook, Hunt and Reeves decided that the act of burning oneself, could become the central image of the play's action. Brook spoke to the company:

We are now entering the third stage of our work. In the first, you opened up as many fields as you could, ranged as widely through our knowledge and ignorance and images as you could. With Grotowski, you explored deeply and intensely a very focussed, tight, personal area of commitment, your own bodily commitment as actors. Now in the third stage, we shall broaden our scope again. But the intense personal exploration will continue -- I don't want any one to feel that the last ten days' work with Grotowski have been a summer school, a refresher course having no direct contact with our subject. No, this personal search - and I know many of you have found it painful - will continue. So once more I say that if anyone wants to pull out now, they can do so.

Charles Wood officially withdrew because he couldn't get out of a film commitment, so the company welcomed Denis Cannan to the company, looking to him for the second act. Four days later he had a feeling that we all want extreme situations, that we yearn for invasion, apocalypse, because these things simplify our tangled lives. It became the germ of GLENDA'S final speech.

GLENDA:. . . .So you end the war in Vietnam. Where's the next one? Thailand, Chile, Alabama? The things that will be needed are all ready in some carefully camouflaged quartermaster's store. The wire, the rope, the gas, the cardboard boxes they use for coffins in emergencies.

I WANT IT TO GET WORSE! I want it to come HERE! I want to see it in an English house, among the floral chintzes and the school blazers and the dog leads hanging in the hall. I would like us to be tested. I would like a fugitive to run to our doors and say hide me -- and know if we hid him we might get shot and if we turned him away we would have to remember that for ever. I would like to know which of my nice well-meaning acquaintances would collaborate, which would betray, which would talk first under torture -- and which would become a torturer. I would like to smell the running bowels of fear, over the English Sunday morning smell of gin and the roasting joint, and hyacinth. I would like to see an English dog playing on an English lawn with part of a burned hand. I would like to see a gas grenade go off at an English flower show, and nice English ladies crawling in each other's sick. And all this I would like to be photographed and filmed so that someone a long way off, safe in his chair, could watch us in our indignity! Everyone who doesn't care what goes on -- so long as it's out of sight -- wants it to go on; because it it's being done to someone else, they think it won't be done to them; and if someone else is doing it, that's better than doing it yourself. Every man whose spirit is dying, wants it to go on, because that sort of dying is better if everyone else dies with you. Everyone longing for the day of judgement -- wants it to go on. Everyone who wants it to be changed, and can't charge -- wants it to go on. It doesn't matter that the world will be ash -- if your life is ash, you'll want it to go on. And that is why it goes on. And why it will get worse. And why the catastrophe will come.

I want it. You want it. They want it. Like lust, it goes on because we want it. And as with lust, we suspect most of all those who shout loudest, `No!'

Brook said the silence at the end must be:

. . . an open-mouth, not a shut eye. Commitment is a changing relationship, like a love affair; not a deal, like a bad marriage. And let's not over estimate the potential effect of the show. An analyst has one person on the couch for maybe twelve years: we have 1000 people on the equivalent of Waterloo Station for three hours. We must work like acupuncture: find the precise spot on the tensed muscle that will cause it to relax. If we succeed, we won't end the war or anything drastic like that, but one person out of our thousand might act differently because of what they experienced in the theatre that night.

The first night performance got an electric silence from a hostile audience. In the foyer the David Frost interview crew, was seizing VIP audience members. Kenneth Tynan punctured the final actor's silence after the butterfly burning with, `Are you waiting for us or are we waiting for you?'

The day after the first night in the Aldwych Brook spoke to the actors:

The performance you gave last night was absolutely what I would have hoped for after all our work. Yesterday we changed Act One a great deal; and we changed it then because we hadn't been in a position to do so before. We're different from a Broadway musical in this respect: at a certain point in a musical, they `freeze' the work, because they don't want to reopen problems ant more, they settle for the solutions they have found.

How can you keep the life going? It is inevitable theatre-myth that the second night -- tonight -- is always a letdown from the first. But need it be so? Certainly, wishing it otherwise won't alter anything. Remember, when we had the critical arguments about the end of the play? Asking for something to redress the balance at the close, we implied disappointment at lack of a solution, at our failure to change the world. We imagined that we were falling short of something positive. But that something was there all the time. It is in the life, the degree of burning you bring to the performance. This is the point at the end: you sit there collectively taking the opposite attitude from either not caring or not worrying.

AUDIO: Butterflying

The critical response was very mixed:

This event conforms to no existing theatrical category and lies outside the scope of conventional criticism. This is something new in the British theatre. Detachment is finally broken down. I have never before experienced this so fully in a theatre.


. . . .The primary distinction of US is that it takes two of our deepest feelings, pity and fear, applies them to the most dangerously urgent situation in the world today, and, by holding these two contrary emotions in balance and intensifying them, creates a world in which they can be faced without evasion, yet without either danger or mindless distraction. What this amounts to is a regulation of our feelings in the highest sense: the supreme form of psychoanalysis. . . .Try to see it; it's undoubtedly the most important piece of theatre in England today.

Peace News, October 21, 1966


Charles Marowitz

. . . I had come -- like so many other people -- out of a hunger to do something, see something, say something which cuts a path out of the chaos. One doesn't need a theatrical performance to explain we are all at an impasses. The role of the theatre in times like today is to elucidate and give a positive lead . . . if the theatre is to pull its weight, it must -- at such times and ont such themes -- begin to supply answers.



from Peter Brook

If you as both critic and a very active director discuss a show concerning Vietnam, you too are challenged by your own words. What can you suggest as a positive solution of the Vietnam horror? Note your own proviso -- this must not be a formula already covered by news, broadcasts, films, TV, or the press.



. . . What the theater can (and in my opinion should) do is put the issues in such a way as to make certain solutions visible to an audience. The first job is elucidating those issues, and this is urgently the case with Vietnam where everything is a welter of fact and pseudo-fact, half-truths and outright lies. In effect, your letter is asking me to supply you with a viewpoint and my innate sense of tact must refuse to do that. My main point is this, and though I put it bluntly I don't mean it rudely: if one has no over-riding conviction to express on the Vietnam War other than the fancy that it is horrible and insoluble, it is almost better to say nothing.

What US represents to me is not dynamic theatre, but the internal proletariat taking hands with the enemy outside the gates to destroy, vilify and belittle all that is healthy and creative in culture. The Left can provide no myth that is not bankrupt, for it accepts the first premise of Fredrich Nietzsche that God is dead, without drawing his conclusion that what is wanted is not generalized philanthropy, social benevolence, but a new aristocracy of race and blood.


Brecht's use of `distance' has long been considered in opposition to Artaud's conception of theatre as an immediate and violent subjective experience. Somewhere in the middle, Brook believes that theatre like life is made of the unbroken conflict between impressions and judgements -- illusion and disillusion cohabit painfully and are inseparable. For instance, everything about Brook's production of Peter Weiss' The Marat/Sade, starting with it's complete title, The Persecution and Murder of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade, is designed to crack the spectator on the jaw, then douse him with ice-cold water, force him to assess intelligently what has happened, then give him a kick in the balls, then bring him back to his senses again. US is not exactly Brecht and it's not Shakespeare either, but it's very Elizabethan and very much of its time.

For Artaud, theatre is fire; for Brecht, theatre is clear vision; for Stanislavski, theatre is humanity. Why must we choose between them? (8)

AUDIO: 324 Butterfly story.


  1. Brook, Peter. Part I, `A SENSE OF DIRECTION,' `The Formless Hunch,' The Shifting Point 1946-1987, p. 3, Harper and Row, New York (1987)
  2. Brook, Peter. Part I, `A SENSE OF DIRECTION,' `The Beck Connection,' The Shifting Point 1946-1987, p.20, Harper and Row, New York (1987)
  3. Brook, Peter. Part I, `A SENSE OF DIRECTION,' `Stereoscopic Vision,' The Shifting Point 1946-1987, p. 6, Harper and Row, New York (1987)
  4. Ibid., p. 4.
  5. Hunt, Albert. "Narrative One," US, The Book of the Royal Shakespeare Company Production, Callyer & Boyars, London (1968)
  6. Brook, Peter. Part I, `A SENSE OF DIRECTION,' `Provocations,' The Shifting Point 1946-1987, p. 66, Harper and Row, New York (1987)
  7. Ryszard Cieslak
  8. Brook, Peter. Part I, `A SENSE OF DIRECTION,' `How many trees make a Forest?' The Shifting Point 1946-1987, p. 43, Harper and Row, New York (1987)