Peter Brook

1925 (London) –

One of the most influential thinkers about theatre in the later 20th C, Brook is known for stripping things back to essentials and for pioneering global theatre. He went to Haiti with Greene and stayed with Dalí in Spain (persuading him to design sets for a production). Meeting Chaikin and Grotowski (who became a close collaborator) was seminal, with Craig (whom he’d known well) another influence. Barrault helped him establish his Paris company: other close collaborators (often friends) included Hughes, Oida, Bâ, Diop, Weiss, Genet and Fugard. Williams corresponded warmly. Brook called Beckett a good companion, saying his joviality was underappreciated.

Peter Brook knew…

Vsevolod Meyerhold

Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold;Vsevolod Yemilyevich Meyerhold;Vsevolod Meyerkhold

1874 (Penza, Russia) – 1940 (Moscow)

Meyerhold’s significance as a pioneering theatre director, silenced and executed under Stalin, is equal to Brecht’s or Stanislavski’s. He studied with the influential Stanislavski, then rejected his methods, though finally was asked by the ailing director to lead his company. Mayakovsky wrote for his friend and collaborator Meyerhold; Rodchenko, Rosanova, Lissitzky and Malevich designed for him, Shklovsky was among his circle in Berlin, and Eisenstein one of his students (hiding Meyerhold’s archive after his death). The young Shostakovich lived in his flat for some months; when a fire broke out, Meyerhold rescued the composer’s manuscripts before anything of his own.

Vsevolod Meyerhold knew…

Erwin Piscator

1893 (Greifenstein, Germany) – 1966 (Starnberg)

Piscator (even before Brecht) evolved socio-politically-engaged ‘epic theatre’; his radical approaches to staging have been massively influential. He was Brecht’s mentor, colleague and friend. Gropius designed a theatre for him; Heartfield, Grosz and Moholy-Nagy designed sets. Huelsenbeck, Eisler and Weill were friends both in Berlin and in New York (where Brando, Williams, Malina and Belafonte were among his students). Mann, Ruttmann, Pabst, Lenya, Toller, Meisel, Nono, Hochhuth, Warren and Weiss were among his many collaborators. He went to meet Reinhardt in Salzburg, while Craig bore Goebbels’ plea to him in Moscow.

Erwin Piscator knew…

Julian Beck

1925 (New York) – 1985 (New York)

Malina was Beck’s marriage partner, and co-founder of the influential Living Theater. Agee, Cage and Cunningham helped them set up the company, Cage and Cunningham helping them find premises. Ginsberg, friend and soul-mate, gave Beck a manuscript to sell to fund one of his court battles. Virilio joined him in taking over Barrault’s Odéon theatre during the 1968 Paris événements (leading to Barrault himself being sacked for taking the students’ side).

Jean-Louis Barrault

1910 (Vésinet, France) – 1994 (Paris)

A drink with his close friend Prévert led to one of Barrault’s best-known acting roles, directed by Carné. Anouilh and Jolivet founded a review with him. He married Renaud: together they ran a celebrated theatre-company, premièring work by Beckett, Ionesco and Genet among others, and employing the young Boulez as musical director. Malraux, former friend and supporter, had him sacked after he sided with students in the 1968 Paris events. He was a vocal supporter of Artaud, and wrote to Desnos in Buchenwald; Desnos wrote back from Terezin, where he was to die, received a package in return, and sent a kiss.

Bertolt Brecht

Bertold Brecht;Berthold Brecht

1898 (Augsburg, Germany) – 1956 (Berlin)

Feuchtwanger was a friend and mentor to Brecht, who sharpened his teeth in Reinhardt’s and Piscator’s theatres. Eisler (a lifelong friend) and Weill were among his most celebrated collaborators. Heartfield acknowledged his longtime friend’s influence, while Herzfelde published his work, and joined in setting up an anti-fascist publishing house in New York. Hindemith collaborated and quarreled with him, Grosz and Döblin were friends, Lenya one of his performers, Tretyakov a translator and populariser of his work, and Chaplin and Auden among those he met in America. Weigel married him, and ran the Berliner Ensemble after his death.