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Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

Peter Brook

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 134

Peter Brook passed away on July 2, 2022. We remember him with fondness and gratitude for his many contributions to the theater.

In this episode, we spend 40 minutes with one of the world’s most influential directors. Peter Brook’s 1970 A Midsummer Night’s Dream is among that play’s most lauded and best-known productions. His 1968 book The Empty Space is a classic of theater writing. Over the course of his career, he directed actors including John Gielgud, Glenda Jackson, Ben Kingsley, Adrian Lester, Vivienne Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, Patrick Stewart, and Frances de la Tour, and won multiple Tony and Emmy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, the Praemium Imperiale, and the Prix Italia.

Brook’s work is characterized by the search for new theatrical modes and artistic languages. Why?, co-written and co-directed by longtime collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne, opened in Paris in June 2019, followed by a run at Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience in October, with a planned tour of China, Italy, and Spain. His book, Playing by Ear: Reflections on Sound and Music, published that same year in the UK, was released in the US in 2020. Barbara Bogaev interviews the director about his remarkable career, his illustrious collaborators, and the process of making theater.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, NPR One, or wherever you find your podcasts.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Originally published December 10, 2019, and rebroadcast July 5, 2022. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “My Age is as a Lusty Winter,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. With technical helped from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Alan Leer at The Sound Company Studios in London.

Previous: Kenny Leon on Much Ado About Nothing  | Next: The History of Shakespeare in American Schools


The Folger Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Read the Folger’s edition of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy online for free.

Shakespeare and Beyond: 10 Acclaimed Directors on Shakespeare and Their Work
Kenny Leon, Peter Brook, Phyllida Lloyd, and others reflect on directing Shakespeare.


MICHAEL WITMORE: Every once in a while, you get a chance to talk to a living legend. For people who love Shakespeare, one of those conversations is coming up.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s Director. In the world of mid-20th-century Shakespeare performance, it is hard to think of anyone as influential as Peter Brook. He started at the Royal Shakespeare Company with a production of Love’s Labor’s Lost in 1946. And for much of the next 70 years, his thinking and productions have changed the way English-speaking directors in the West approach and stage Shakespeare.

He directed John Gielgud in Measure for Measure in 1950, The Winter’s Tale in 1952, and The Tempest in 1957; Laurence Olivier in Titus Andronicus in 1958; and Paul Scofield in King Lear in 1962. And he’s perhaps best known for his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1970 with John Kane, Frances de la Tour, Ben Kingsley, and Patrick Stewart. That production not only changed Shakespeare, but if you went to theater in the 1970s, you saw its impact outside the Shakespeare World too. Shows like Pippin, Candide, Godspell, and others all drew from Brook’s revolutionary staging and design.

Now that he’s 94 years old, you might think that Peter Brook would slow down but you would be wrong. He wrote and directed the play Battlefield which premiered at the Young Vic in 2015, and he’s written two new books—Tip of the Tongue in 2017, and his latest: Playing By Ear: Reflections on Sound and Music.

We are thrilled to bring you our interview with him now in a podcast episode we call “My Age is as a Lusty Winter.” Peter Brook is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: How did Shakespeare figure into your childhood? Your parents were immigrants from Russia, so did you come to Shakespeare through them or through school or… how?

PETER BROOK: My parents never… they came from Russia just at the end of the revolution and they certainly were so struck by the marvel for them of everything British. They felt that this was the heart of democracy, what they’d hoped the Russian revolution would bring. They brought my brother and myself. We lived in Chiswick and we were brought up very, very firmly in the best English way.

I was an avid reader and of course very soon the works of Shakespeare came off the shelf and into my hands, and I was absolutely amazed. All the adventure stories, everything I’d read, they all disappeared in front of this marvel. At the same time, I had a little toy theater. It had a little curtain and there were little painted sets, and I could make further myself. Then there were little figures that you could push, either with your finger or with long wired sticks.

And I decided that I would do on my stageI suppose I couldn’t have been more than sevenI would do a production of Hamlet. My poor parents who were brought up in a feeling that you must never, never suppress any instinct of young children—“This may be a budding genius…” So when I announced to my parents, “Come down and watch,” I put out two seats. I stood behind the little stage with a copy of Hamlet in my hands and in a little squeaky, seven or eight-year-old voice I started reading the entire play. It’s impossible to imagine the agony for loving parents who have to sit still. They can’t do anything but…

BOGAEV: I’m sure, did they keep a straight face? I mean, how wonderful to hear your seven-year-old do, “To be or not to be.”

BROOK: Yeah, not even, they just listened. And this little squeaky voice said, “To be or not to be that is …” And they sat through the… I think they must have sat there for about four hours. And then it came to a point when my father said, “Okay Peter, that’s enough.” That was the end of my acting career… at the beginning of a, well, lifelong connection with Shakespeare. So, there, you know it all.

BOGAEV: That’s wonderful. You got that out of your system at age seven: the acting bug.


BOGAEV: That interests me also because I think I read somewhere that you wanted to be a foreign correspondent when you grew up.

BROOK: Oh, yes. All I wanted… I wanted every sort of adventure and I rapidly got an impression that this was not life. And then reading the plays, like the plays of Shakespeare, I sawthere’s a line that remains with me always in Coriolanus when he says, “There is a world elsewhere.” And that elsewhere went straight to my heart and I thought, “How can I get out of this provincial, bourgeois, London life?” And I suddenly thought, “If I became a journalist and became a foreign correspondent, I would be sent to the most dangerous places and that would be thrilling.”

BOGAEV: What brought you back to theater then?

BROOK: Theater then was an exploration and it was a meaning—I was just as interested in making movies—which was of living a hundred lives. I thought, “If I go into imaginary stories, which have a tremendous repercussion, the sense that one can live the best possible”… As a foreign correspondent, one life. But if you go beyond it into the two areas, the theatre and the cinema, you can live within a week a hundred vicarious lives in parts of the globe you could never get to otherwise. That was wonderful.

BOGAEV: You really did pack a lot into your early twenties. In fact, by the time you were twenty, you were staging Shakespeare in Stratford with some of the finest actors of the day. I mean, John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh, Paul Scofield.

BROOK: That’s true.

BOGAEV: Laurence Olivier. Could you tell me about working with Olivier? What set him apart as a Shakespearean actor?

BROOK: Now, that’s an unfair question because I don’t like to run people down. John Gielgud was someone of tremendous quality. Laurence Olivier was a man of tremendous skills. But they were totally different. They were on the surface friends, but each one brought a quality that the other one had nowhere in him.

[CLIP from Richard II, John Gielgud as John of Gaunt.]

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself.

BROOK: Gielgud was pure sensitivity.

[Clip continues]

This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to an house,
Against the envy of less happier lands.

BROOK: Whatever he spoke, it wasAnd this was of course the time when everything in the English theater was conditioned by the sense of aristocracy and the upper classes. And John Gielgud had a natural aristocratic way of speaking. Such a modest sensitivity that every line he spoke lived through this.

[Clip continues]

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world.

[CLIP from Hamlet, Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.]

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!

BROOK: Olivier was just the opposite. He was a man, again of amazing talents, who were doing the most dangerous things. I remember him throwing himself off a high platform, to the horror of everyone. But above all, he loved showing off in a very subtle way that he was the cleverest and the best. The opposite of that natural modesty of John Gielgud.

[CLIP from Hamlet, Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.]

And yet, within a month
Let me not think on ‘t; frailty, thy name is woman!

BOGAEV: He always seemed a little cold or unfeeling to me.

BROOK: Oh, yes, well that’s…

BOGAEV: Except in rare moments of transcendence.

BROOK: Yeah, but that is so true because he was a cold person. His wife, Vivien, had all the sensitivity and the heart. Larry, essentiallyand that’s again where he’s so different from Gielgud and from Alec and us at the same time—one would say that if you could open him up, you would see in the place of a heart a little ice box.

[Clip continues]

But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

BROOK: He was a brilliant… I mean, it was like great pianists. He was a brilliant technician, but that was his limitation.

BOGAEV: You know, I’m curious. Listening to you talk about this period in your life, back to the ’50s and earlier, whether—I mean, there you were, the young, brash ones at the Royal Shakespeare company. You were the young rebellious ones and I imagine you were chafing at the kind of work that was being done there. And perhaps plotting what you would do when it was your time? When you were in charge?

BROOK: No, no, no that’s… no, no, no, you’re missing out on the most essential link. After I had done various things in London that had attracted a few critics and people began to say, “This is a young man whose got some future, and we should watch him.” I suddenly got a letter from Sir Barry Jackson of the Birmingham Rep saying, “We would like to invite you to do a production at the Birmingham Rep. Could you come and see us, and we could talk about it on such and such a date. We could pay you, for your production and for your time, 25 pounds.” This seemed unbelievable. It was possible to earn 25 pounds. So, I went there…

BOGAEV: That’s a fortune.

BROOK: I met this marvelous man of such deep openness, and he gave everything he could to encourage young people to develop in the theatre. So, he took over this uninteresting, crumbling theatre in Birmingham and he used it. That was where he invited me on trust to do my first production, which was a Man and Superman. The day I arrived he called me into his office and a very quiet young man was sitting there. And he said, “I want you to meet Paul Scofield.”

Then I did various productions there and I learnt a great deal just by being part of it. And one day Sir Barry said to me, “I’ve been invited to take over…” something that wasn’t called the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was called with this terrible name, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. That’s already the kiss of death on a production if you know it’s going to be at the “Memorial”.

And he said, “I’m going over to Stratford tomorrow to look at the theatre. Would you like to come with me?” Then when we went over, he said, “Next season I want to open with Love’s Labor’s Lost. Would you like to direct it?” Just like that. And he said, “Paul Scofield can be in it as well.”

He then would get together some of the best actors from the West End. None of the old, run-of-the-mill Shakespearian actors who were only made by them to—season after season—play booming barons. There I was with Paul Scofield and a couple of other actors that I really knew from Birmingham. I was given a completely free hand.

And at once I was terribly influenced by painting. I would go to the museums everywhere. The painter that touched me most was Watteau. Suddenly, even though that was not in any way the period I’m accustomed with for a play of Shakespearewhich are all the standard Elizabethan ruffs and collarsI suddenly felt, looking at this play… This play has such a dancing music in it. If I could get somebody to do costumes resembling Watteau, this would be what—I remember at the time… It was a beautiful word of T.S. Eliot’s: the “objective correlative” of the play.

We did a very, very simple set. Just a little mound on the stage and beautiful flowing Watteau-like costumes. And so, there was a natural grace in every movement of the stage, especially as they came over this little hill at the back, which meant them, again, to move gracefully over this surface. It served wonderfully at the end when one saw Death coming into this elegant, light play. When the news was brought to the princess that her father has died. And for that, the two—the men lovers and the woman lovers who were going to go and celebrate together, agreed that they would meet again one year later because of the mourning for her father.

The last line of the play suddenly took on a very, very beautiful and moving quality. The play ends with the princess leaving, for a year, these new charming lovers that she and all the court had found. The last line is, that until next yearI forget the line exactly but it becomes her just pointing two directions, “You this way, we that way.” Then a little music.
And on that sad note… sad and yet joyful note, I discovered what in Watteau had always touched me. Because you feel in Watteau that of all these open air fêtes champêtre, there is a sad feeling that this can’t last forever. There. I’ve given you a long answer to a simple question.

BOGAEV: Well, thank you, because I’m getting such a wonderful window into your synthetic, organic creativity and the way your mind works. And I’m also thinking about what you have said about your work in your book, The Empty Space. About this whole post-war period that you were working in. That theatre was all about reacting to the war.

BROOK: Yeah.

BOGAEV: So, how so?

BROOK: Oh, yes, it was an escape. You know, all of us had been cooped up in our little island. If you weren’t a soldier you were just nowhere. Then the war ended, and suddenly one was allowed to travel. And I leapt on it, and I went at once to Portugal. From Portugal I got on a plane and went for the first time to North Africa and went to Tangier. When I came back Sir Barry had asked me if in the following season I would do Romeo and Juliet.

For me Romeo wasn’t that, again, dreamy romantic play. It was a play of passion coming out of a climate not only of burning heat, but… there’s a line right at the beginning when the Capulets and the Montagues, the young people, meet in the street. It says something like, “And the dog days are here,” and in this sweltering heat they, just like today, start fighting one another. So it became the opposite of the Victorian, dreamy Romeo and Juliet.

It became something with very young lovers. I had insisted that for once instead of middle-aged ladies, because they could speak the verse, we had a real couple of the right age. With that we did a Romeo, and we had a set that was all made of sand with brilliant light burning down on it.

It was so unexpected that it was a disaster. Howls of derision from Stratford. All the critics who said this is a massacre. “Where is the beauty of this play? The most beautiful play of Shakespeare massacred by this violent little young man who doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Although I’d been wonderfully received with Love’s Labor’s Lost, all wiped away with its fury.

After that, on the third night… there was always a little debate with the audience, and the manager of the theater came to see me. He said, after the play, “I will take you in front of the audience. They have to be able, as we always do, to have a question and answer with the director. But be prepared, you’re going to have nothing but very, very terrible, angry questions.” So, I said, “Okay.”

I was led out. Deadly hush in the audience. I stood there for a long time and then suddenly in about the tenth row, a lady got to her feet, quivering with anger. “Ah,” I thought, “Here we go.”

And with an umbrella in her hand or a stick, shaking it towards me she said, “Will Peter Brook of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre explain to us how it is that in his production last night there was no light—?”

And of course, I was very much into lighting effects so I thought, “God what’s she going to say?”

—“Why there was no light in the ladies’ cloak room?”

BOGAEV: Priorities.

BROOK: Yes. Well, poetry.

BOGAEV: Well that is a beautiful lead in to my next question which is about your landmark production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford in 1970 and also later in the West End.

[CLIP from the 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Brook. Puck meets a chorus of fairies.]

How now, spirit? Wither wander you?

Over hill, over dale,
Through bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire;
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere.
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see.

BOGAEV: So many people have described it as just a revelation, the kind of production that you remember the rest of your life. The New York Times theatre critic at the time, Clive Barnes wrote that, “Brook has approached the play with a radiant innocence. He’s treated the script as if it had just been written and sent to him through the mail. He staged it with no reference to the past, no reverence for tradition.” And among other things, you placed the action in a box of pure white.

[CLIP from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. David Waller plays Bottom, giving Snug the Joiner some tips on playing a lion.]

BOTTOM: “I would entreat you not to fear, not to tremble! My life for yours. If you think I come hither as a lion, it were pity of my life. No, I am no such thing. I am a man as other men are.”

And you always had ladders that went up and down the walls of the stage to this platform where actors looked down at the goings-on, as if they were spectators at a fight, a bull fight, or something. All the fairy characters, Oberon, Titania, and Puck you conceived as acrobats and jugglers. And they were actually spinning balancing these spinning plates on long poles and they swung on trapezes. It is all so sensual and very much a circus.

[CLIP from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sara Kestelman is Titania, David Waller is Bottom]

TITANIA [Waking up]:
What angel wakes me from my flow’ry bed?

BOTTOM [Singing]:
The finch, the sparrow, and the lark,
The plainsong cuckoo gray,
Whose note full many a man doth mark
And dares not answer—NEEEEIGH!

BOGAEV: So just a practical question, why circus acrobats?

BROOK: That was very simple. They weren’t circus acrobats, but it was something very different and that was this; I would go every year whenever I could to America and I would go to New York. One time I went there and what had they brought for the first time what was called the Chinese Circus.

[CLIP of music from the 2016 production of Dynasty, by the Chinese State Circus.]

BROOK: And there, I saw young people doing amazing things. Just leaping and juggling, and at the same time a man holding a girl with his left hand and juggling with his right hand. It was something unbelievable. I came back to Stratford and I said, “What I would like to do with A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to have a workshop. A period of preparation when we can prepare things based on the point that we’re trying to evoke spirits.”

None of us have ever seen a spirit. All we can say is that a spirit is invisible. And to be invisible, the nearest we can get is in what I’d seen in these Chinese acrobats. Something so light that the body’s transparent. The opposite of the muscular footballers that you see then and today.

[Clip from the 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Brook. Alan Howard is playing Oberon.]

What thou seest when thou dost wake
Do it for thy true love take.
Love and languish for his sake.
Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,
Pard, or boar with bristled hair,
In thy eye that shall appear
When thou wak’st, it is thy dear.
Wake when some vile thing is near.

BROOK: So, I had marvelous actors like Alan Howard playing Oberon, who could come down on a trapeze, which you really felt, for the king of fairies, was absolutely right.

[Clip continues]

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk roses, and with eglantine.

BOGAEV: It all sounds so light, and as Clive Barnes said, “Innocent.” But you also said that another war, Vietnam, brought you to the staging of this Midsummer. How did Vietnam lead you to this?

BROOK: When we’d done this, this terrible war started in Vietnam. At the same time, I and all my friends were deeply conscious that at the very moment when we were doing this beautiful, joyful, invocation of fairies, the Americans were dropping napalm, something that burns the villages and burns people and burns babies.

So I got together within the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at the time, a little group, and I said, “We have a duty to perform; Of making a living form that can mean something to audiences, in which you can really feel that at the very moment that we’re just joyfully enjoying the privilege of being actors in London, in the West End, keeping right out of this.” We decided to evolve something through improvisation, through meeting journalists just back from Vietnam. I went to America to meet the widow of the young man who had set himself on fire in front of the Pentagon. And with all that, the play that evolved had this very simple title, which was also a pun, because it was called US.

[CLIP: “Song of the Technical Language” from US directed by Peter Brook.]

BROOK: And it was called US, meaning, them: the Americans. That it’s easy to sit back comfortably in London and say, “Look what those bastards are doing.” It’s about us. We’re doing nothing to stop them.

[Clip continues. A soldier sings.]

Zapping the ‘cong back where they belong
Hide your yellow asses when you hear my song.

BROOK: A form with satirical songs, a satirical text.

[CLIP: “Make and Break” from US, directed by Peter Brooks. Two doctors trade verses with two soldiers.]

Pass me the stethoscope of Albert Schweitzer.
Pass me the armory of Mickey Spillane.
Put the mothers through the bacon slicer.

BROOK: So, that’s the story of the link between the Midsummer Night’s Dream and US.

[Clip continues]

Just the same as you! Just the same as you!

BOGAEV: Well, right around the time that you did Midsummer leading into US, you moved to Paris and founded the International Center for Theatre Research with your collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne.

BROOK: That’s good.

BOGAEV: Thank you. What prompted the move?

BROOK: Very simply, I’ve made it a condition in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I said, “What I need is to have something that’s never happened before here. We need a little experimental unit where we can explore new ways and new approaches. Not just on Shakespeare but on every sort of way of making theatre.” We called this little experimental group the Theatre of Cruelty, which was a phrase from the French writer Antonin Artaud who said, “When I talk about cruelty, I don’t mean cruelty to other people, I mean cruelty to myself. I take risks and sometimes they burn inside me.”

And so with this tiny group we made many, many experiments. Then discovered that the most important thing of all was to go beyond the barriers. We still were brought up in a post-colonial society and we began to see that this is the worst barrier of all. The color barrier which nobody yet was really aware of. We began to see in America. Yes, there was Martin Luther King. There were movements of people who were really beginning to feel that this is terrible, the way we treat Black people as though they’re not equal to white-skinned people. With this we begin to explore, and nobody in England was particularly interested in this sort of exploration. But in Paris, this was already an international city.

Jean-Louis Barrault had approached me and said, “Would you do a workshop on Shakespeare.” I said, “I’ll do a workshop on Shakespearename it as you wantif I can bring together something nobody’s ever done. Actors from different races, from different languages. We’ll do a workshop.” In this I met actors like Yoshi Oida, who came from Japan. We began to improvise with people who had no common language. Just with gesture or sound or just very simple words. Then Ted Hughes came and wrote things for us.

Out of this it was so clear that the possibility of this work couldn’t exist in those days in London. And so sadly, I started going with my wife, Natasha, to Paris and would come back to London until the time when we felt this endless traveling didn’t make sense and that we would take apartment in Paris. And regretfully, one thing led to the other and there were too many things that were so deeply close to us that in the end we just stayed in Paris.

BOGAEV: You have talked so fascinatingly about being an early pioneer of color-blind casting and how you think of it which is…

BROOK: Excuse me, but you mustn’t use this phrase “color-blind”. It’s on the contrary, color-welcome.

BOGAEV: Oh, that’s a lovely phrase, thank you.

BROOK: Color-blind means, you know… it’s very snobbish. “We know it’s your disability, you poor people, but we’re closing our eyes.” And that’s disgusting. It’s on the contrary, we have our eyes wide open, welcoming the fact that this one is light brown and this one’s dark brown and this poor little one is white.

BOGAEV: Let me rephrase, because you’re absolutely right, and I think that I’m going to promote that phrase from now on. You have been such an early pioneer of color-welcome casting and the way that you’ve talked about it is that it’s not so much at all about color or race; what it is, is what makes for good theatre. That there is an actor, a storyteller, who transcends their visible physicality, their body. And you can say it much better than I can because you have this theory of how what happens in the theatre is the space between the actor and the role of silence in that space.

BROOK: Yeah. You say it very well.

BOGAEV: Do you mean by that that it’s in that silence is where our imagination enters in or the invisible become visible?

BROOK: I’ll tell you something that linked to the fact that from the very start everything that we did was inseparable from improvisations. And in an improvisation, you evoke anything. Somebody starts, there are five people and we say, “Improvise today on fear.” And at once, one of them will go on hand and foot and become a lion and other one will become a panther and attack the lion. And then there comes to a point when it’s repetitive, they have no more inspiration and I’d intervene and say, “All right, now let’s start again differently.” Someone would come in very quietly, look around and say, “Now that I’m alone, there’s no danger.” And at that moment somebody would knock on the door.

These were little improvisations that arose by themselves. And out of that language of improvisation, I saw that this was exactly what I was doing night after night with my young children. When in the bedtime stories I was the narrator and I could… just with a word, it was sufficient to say, “I’m descending from a plane on a parachute and I looked down and I see the jungle.” The children will be transfixed. I would have been doing nothing.

Then when we started preparing The Mahabharata, I went to India. I would see in the courtyards a storyteller, night after night, perhaps three hundred people sitting there avidly watching. The storyteller had one gadget; He had a stick. And the stick could suddenly be a sword, and at once in The Mahabharata, there are two armies facing one another. So holding the stick sideways he puts it in his left hand and there’s one army. Puts it in his right hand it’s the other army. And they’re moving slowly towards one another. Just the movement of the stick and the imagination fills in the rest.

So then out of that, it began to be clear that one can really evoke anything at all, if one finds the way of recognizing that whatever play we’re doing—and to this day I use that jargon—we are storytellers.

BOGAEV: Peter Brook, I never saw your 1970 Midsummer but this conversation has been completely transformative and I will remember it forever, thank you so much.

BROOK: But it’s a pleasure talking to you. It takes two to make a conversation and if you don’t feel that the other person is with you, then nothing comes. So, thank you. A pleasure.

MICHAEL WITMORE: Peter Brook has won multiple Tony and Emmy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, the Praemium Imperiale, and the Prix Italia. He has been called “our greatest living theater director.” His new book, Playing by Ear: Reflections on Sound and Music was published in Great Britain in 2019 by Nick Hern Books. Nick Hern Books has also just released for the first time in e-book format Brook’s revolutionary 1968 book, The Empty Space, as well as an audiobook of his 2013 The Quality of Mercy read by actor Michael Pennington. Peter Brook was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Our podcast, My Age is as a Lusty Winter, was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical helped from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Alan Leer at The Sound Company Studios in London.

If your enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited, and if you’re looking for a way to let other people know about it, please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts. That really is the best way to help. Thank you.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, please come and visit us on Capitol Hill. Take in a performance in our Elizabethan Theatre and come face to face with a First Foliothe first printed edition of Shakespeare’s plays. We’d love to see you.

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.