Empty spaces

by Michael

Last week, Sophie and I flirted with freedom from the childcare routine and went to the theatre. “The theatre” is a funny phrase. “A theatre” would be more accurate. Or actually, “a former factory that is being used as a theatre” is unhelpfully precise.

Thinking about descriptions of the relatively new Shunt space reminds me of various people who have recently been criticising Peter Brook and his famous Empty Space. (Another mention here.) I haven’t seen 11 and 12, but I have seen a couple of Brook’s other recent pieces of theatre and I have enjoyed them. Now I’m not going to defend his place in the hagiography of contemporary British / actually-kind-of-French theatre, but I suspect some reactions against The Empty Space (pub. 1968) are more about kicking against any perceived institution of the establishment, especially when that institution has aged and by dint of being an institution, can no longer rebel but must conform to its own (too-well established) rebellion.

I seem to remember at least buying a copy of the book when at drama school, which indicates I probably read it around that time too. Nothing beyond the title has remained in my consciousness and I’m damned if I’m going to re-read it now. So forgive me if I’m being ignorant. But I think to criticise it 42 years after it appeared by taking the ’emptiness’ of the ‘space’ as literal is to relax in the frothing jacuzzi of now and forget about the plumbed-in pipes of past that filled it. I consider Brook’s ‘observed emptiness’ to be about the potential of theatre to fill spaces, and for the practitioner to select what fills the space, rather than throwing anything and everything into the mix in the hope of achieving completion.

Sitting back now and saying, ‘well of course, there’s no such thing as a (cultural)vacuum, so take your empty space and breathe it till you choke, Brook, baby’ is in danger of missing the point. A point. A former idea that is being used as a point.

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