Peter Brook and black actors

By Sylvie Chalaye

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For Peter Brook, working with actors of African origin is part of the principal of « world casting » that he started using at the Bouffes du Nord theatre in Paris, France with Timon d’Athènes. However, it is with Iks that « Brook deals with the issue of how to best present the other without preconceptions or respect for any kin=d of racial convention » notes Georges Banu. In fact Brook works at rendering the notion of race irrelevant. So that a White or an Asian can play a Black, without this fact carrying any special weight. Brook approaches all actors as malleable human material regardless of their race. What he is most interested in, according to Georges Banu, « is the actor’s presence, his ability to light up the stage, as well as how they correspond to a certain image that he has already formed of the role« . Mahabharata is based on these principles.
Sotigui Kouyaté’s appeal lies in his stage presence and a certain aura about him that interested Brook on a symbolic level. To compliment the narrative force of the Indian epic, Brook chose « actors that are first and foremost seen as symbols who can be readily understood and who identify with the role, not as the result of a process that has evolved over time, but rather as the result of something present initially ».According to Georges Banu, Brook uses film casting criteria. He rejects composition and favours identities, oddities, expressiveness of stance and gests. Their overall physical presence is of more interest to him that how well they recite, how accurate or subtle they are. As with film, diction takes a background role and the bodies make the biggest impact.
Georges Banu’s work devoted to the director of the Bouffes dur Nord theatre quotes Peter Book on his relationship with the actors. « I dislike those who like to construct. That’s why, for example, that I have a very very good relationship with African actors _ because they are not at all naive or intuitive. They are very, very professional, in the sense that they are extremely competent and experienced. But they don’t try to hide behind the role at all. On the contrary, they try to be totally open so that the role is expressed through all their means. It’s the opposite of great European stage actors for whom everything is artistic construction and what’s going on inside is often just about impossible to find – construction for virtuosity’s sake. I am looking for the purity that comes out in actors when they start opening up.
All the same, the meeting between Sotogui Kougayé and Bakary Sangaré was going take Peter Brook’s work on a search that goes beyond the principle of « world casting » or symbolic casting. In casting Sotiguy Kouyaté in the role of Prospero and David Bennent in the role of Caliban, Peter Brook is breaking with the traditional image of the master-slave couple. Not only is the image of the colonised not the one you would expect, but it calls up something entirely different – the world of magic. Sotiguy Kouyaté’s lanky and majestic physique and beauty rising like a age-old tree from the Buddhist garden decor, contrasted with the wizened bent up figure of David Bennent as a gnome. In Qui est là? His casting of Bakary Sangaré in the role of Hamlet and Sotiguy Kouyaté as the spectre would seem to question the notion of presence in theatre and the spectator’s relationship with the visible and invisible. These questions will continue to be raised in successive productions, especially in L’Homme qui.
It is only now that Bakary Sangaré and Sotigui Kouyaté are playing Africans under Peter Brook, in the South African play, The Costume, as if he wanted to another dimension of the black actor, dealing with the issue of identity, that may not have been given a voice in past productions.

///Article N° : 5436

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