The prisoner of conscience: Peter Brooke’s actors about working with the master

04 января 2021

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In early May, as part of the ’Rainbow’ International Theatre Festival, Peter Brooke’s play Prisoner was shown for the first time in Russia. It was premiered in March 2018 at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, France.

In the language of the parable, the author tells the viewer the real story he once experienced in Afghanistan, full of reflections on freedom — external and internal, on crime, punishment and conscience. The minimalism of the scenographic solution to the performance responds to the asceticism of the actors’ work — in gestures, lines, and presentation of emotions. The multinational composition of the company allows us to see the multiplicity, sometimes cultural untranslatability or, conversely, the universality of the issues raised.

ART Point Magazine met with two leading actors in the performance — Omar Silva and Hervé Goffings.

Peter Brook © Thomas Rome

In your opinion, what is the specifics of working with Peter Brook? Tell us about your experience working with him on the play «The Prisoner».

Hervé Goffings: Peter Brooke works in a completely different way than the directors I have ever met before. Usually, when we disassemble a role, we ask a lot of questions, discuss it. And Peter just told me: «Don’t worry, what you need for the role inside you, just relax and your character will reveal itself». Often, of course, something unusual could be heard from him. For example, I am struck by his words that theatre is more than just a joint presence of actors on stage.

Omar Silva: For me, working with Peter Brooke is a challenge. It’s very difficult to exist in his doctrine. Peter has always asked me to be real, sincere. And it was very, very difficult because the story is born «out of you» and tells «about you». I should have learned to understand myself and that’s the only way I could be sincere with the audience and only then would it be clear to me what I had to say. And this is a difficult task.

As you know, Peter Brooke fundamentally refuses to make difficult scenery, what is it like to work almost in an empty space on stage?

Hervé Hoffings: We have several locations in the play that are often replaced by one another: in the house, in the forest, in front of the prison, in the desert. And in this «empty space» you, as an actor, have to use your imagination, but also the work of the imagination has to include the viewer. This involvement of the public seems to me to be a very important feature of Peter Brooke’s handwriting, it makes his work special.

The story that formed the basis of the play is known to be real and very provocative: a person is not sentenced to sit inside a prison for a murder, but outside. What is its meaning for you personally?

Omar Silva: For me this story is about a man who is scared of what he has done. It often happens that in the face of his conscience, a person passes and denies what he has done. But by hurting others, the person fills himself with that pain, and only accepting what he has done can save him and heal him.

Hervé Goffings: And for me this is a story about punishment. In our society, when you do something criminal, you go to prison. That’s the way it is done. But in this play, the hero takes a different path — his «inner journey» to himself, only in which he can free himself. That’s why the «Prisoner» does not answer questions, but on the contrary problematizes the social reality in which we live. Does the punishment system really work? We put people in prison and when they get out of prison, they don’t always get better, sometimes worse, more radical. And they commit crimes again. So for me the story of the protagonist is about a new decision: you can forgive yourself and become better.

The play premiered in 2018 in Paris, in which countries did you show it during that time?

We travelled a lot with him: France, the UK, Scotland, the USA, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland and Switzerland, and now here, for the first time in Russia, in St Petersburg.

© Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Joan Marcus
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