Directors I have known, Brook and Barrault, Two very different men

During my years at the Roundhouse Theatre, we had the most amazing range of shows, from enormous film festivals, film crews shooting films, classical concerts, both ancient and contemporary, musicals, Shakespeare in a variety of styles, rock concerts, conferences, dance theatre and so on, the list is actually way too long to remember. Most shows were either one day events or only stayed with us for a month or so. Thus the change overs were long and frequent.

I have never worked so hard in my life as I did there.

Some of the events we had, do remain firmly in my memory, others have disappeared in the mists of time, which for some of them is a kindness to put it mildly as they were so unbelievably awful they deserve no better.

For the fun of it I shall describe some of those that did stick in my memory and the events surrounding them.

Some of these descriptions will be short, and only mention things that stood out about a particular production, others may well be rather longer if I can both remember anything much about them, and if they were so remarkable they are worth describing in some detail. So a series of random anecdotes really.

Obviously this will mean that I shall tell of my impressions of working with a number of amazingly talented, famous or totally untalented individuals who passed me in those years. Some of the least talented were also the most famous… Amazing what some people can manage with a loud voice and no talent.

Lets start with Peter Brook.

At that time he was probably the most successful and famous theatre director in the world, held in awe and almost godlike admiration by all actors and theatre folk for his brilliant directing mainly of Shakespeare. And there is no denying that he was a most amazing and wonderful director, and all his productions were a joy to experience. But unfortunately for me and my stage technicians, he was also a most unpleasant and arrogant man to have to deal with.

While I was at the Roundhouse he directed, either A Midsummer’s Dream, or the Tempest, I cant remember which it was, and his production entailed completely rebuilding the stage and seating in the theatre, which is a hell of a lot of work obviously. This we were used to, and had systems in place to make it as easy as possible, but it is a noisy and messy affair.

Generally productions were rehearsed elsewhere in rehearsal rooms somewhere, and the actors only came to rehears in the theatre for the last few days before their show opened, which gave us the time to crash around, hang lights, build seating rostra and stages and so on at our own pace.

For some reason however, Brooke felt it was necessary for him and his actors to do all their preparations in the theatre itself, not a happy mix.. Noisy technicians and actors trying to come to terms with his idiosyncratic vision of the play do not go well in the same space.

So whilst demanding we build a very complex auditorium and stage for his production, Brook also insisted on total silence as he and his actors played a range of theatrical games in a corner of the theatre.

His technique for getting silence was to sort of freeze whenever a particularly loud crash or stream of furious swearing from one or other technician occurred. Curious to see, he would sit there like a statue waiting for us to realise he was displeased and stop making any noises.

Unfortunately for him, my technicians had seen so many famous and admired people that they were totally unimpressed by him, and started to play a game with him… One of them would start hammering away at a bit of wood, which would cause him to freeze…. Silence would fall…. Then Brook would unfreeze and start working again.. whereupon one of the technicians would produce a loud noise… Brook would freeze again, and so it would go on, all day long.

During all of this I tried to stay out of sight, so I couldn’t be asked to make my guys work in total silence, as this would obviously been impossible and silly.

On the other hand, we also had a production called Rabelais, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault who was also a director of genius, a man with a long and highly regarded history in film and theatre. Unlike Brooke, this guy was a dream to work with, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, funny and civilised, and more importantly also worshiped by actors, particularly the cast of this show.

In spite of hardly speaking a word of English, and working here with an entirely English cast, he managed to communicate his ideas and needs with no real trouble, often resorting to mime to do this (for those of you who do not know of him, he was a famous mime among other things). I shall never forget him miming a war horse for one of the British actors who was having trouble miming that damned horse….. Barrault got up on the stage and damn me, but he became a horse… Superb guy.


He even managed to win over my technicians, which is no mean achievement, they fell for him totally, and would do anything he asked of them at once and to the best of their abilities.

Curiously he had a remarkable similarity to Kenneth Williams, which was a bit disconcerting at times.

The show itself was great fun to see, as it took place without seating over a long more or less cruciform set of stages, so the audience sort of followed the action from stage area to stage area. By the way, it was actually Rabalaise’s story of Gargantua, a very noisy, earthy and funny story, which an all English cast managed to pull off, in spite of the trouble English trained actors have with moving, being more word orientated in their training.

It is interesting to see how two more or less equally brilliant directors got the results they did by such totally different approaches to their cast and technicians. Give me Barrault’s approach any day over Brook’s arrogant approach.. The Barrault experience was a real pleasure for all involved, the Brook was only good for the audience, we hated him with a passion and thus got no enjoyment out of our work with him. And enjoying your work is important we all felt..

More to come as I think of it….

One thought on “Directors I have known, Brook and Barrault, Two very different men”

  1. Fascinating stories about Brooke and Barrault. You never shared them with me in Amsterdam!?! What a wasted resource I had so close by and didn’t know it!!! Well, still so glad to hear you share them now. Can’t wait to hear more!

    Like

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