Peter Brook / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, The Grand Inquisitor

Review in Issue 18-2 | Summer 2006

Using a novel as a starting point for theatre has its disadvantages: too much material, and the perennial problem of representing a character’s internal thoughts. If you must seek inspiration in novels, a good tack might be to pick just one small section of the novel to dramatise, and then choose a section that is inherently dramatic, perhaps something that revolves around a conflict of ideas that seeks resolution. Well, you can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs. Peter Brook delves into Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and extracts from it the story-within-a-story section which is the parable of the Grand Inquisitor. In essence: Christ comes back to earth at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He is arrested. The Grand Inquisitor tells him that he has not understood human nature. He has burdened humanity with too much freedom – the gift of free will has got us nowhere.

Sometimes life (and theatre) can be so easy. Whenever I see a Brook production, I’m tempted to think, ‘That’s great, so obvious, I could have done that.’ Here’s an example: a very simple staging – block walls, clear strong lighting, a large area of the stage floor covered by a white mat, a thick one that is a bit like a judo mat. In one corner, addressing the audience and addressing his prisoner, is the Grand Inquisitor who sits, stands, walks, talks. In the corner diagonally opposite, the Christ figure, who sits, in silent but receptive mode. We only see his back; he stays still other than for the occasional movement of head or leg that perhaps reflects, echoes, or counters a word or movement from the Inquisitor. When the Inquisitor stops speaking, the Christ figure walks towards him and kisses him as his reply. The slow walk across the diagonal is a beautifully simple and effective choreography. Perfect theatre; a two-hander that proves the power of the spoken word, and proves that the most powerful physical theatre can be still, quiet, minimal.

See, it’s easy isn’t it?

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 2006

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-2
p. 25