Brook, who put a radical spin on classics and lived in Paris from the early 1970s, was one of the most influential theatre directors of the 20th century.

Brook had continued to work and challenge audiences well into his 90s.
Brook had continued to work and challenge audiences well into his 90s. (AFP)

France-based British theatre director Peter Brook, who revolutionised the stage with radical interpretations of the classics before returning drama to its simplest roots, has died aged 97.

One of the most influential theatre directors of the 20th century, Brook died on Saturday according to a source close to the director, who asked not to be named.

Best-known for his 1985 masterpiece "The Mahabharata", a nine-hour version of the Hindu epic, he lived in Paris from the early 1970s, where he set up the International Centre for Theatre Research in an old music hall called the Bouffes du Nord.

For many, Brook's startling 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in a white-cube gymnasium was a turning point in world theatre.

His first film, "Lord of the Flies" (1963), an adaptation of the William Golding novel about schoolboys marooned on an island who turn to savagery, was an instant classic.

He mesmerised audiences in London and New York with his era-defining "Marat/Sade" in 1964, which won a Tony award, and wrote "The Empty Space", one of the most influential texts on theatre ever, three years later.

His big landmark after "The Mahabharata" was "L'Homme Qui" in 1993, based on Oliver Sacks' bestseller about neurological dysfunction, "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat".

'The last silence'

Brook rose to fame in the UK as a young director who put a radical, and sometimes bloody, spin on classics including the works of Shakespeare, working with actors who would later become themselves legends.

But his methods underwent a gradual transformation after moving to France in the early 1970s, reducing theatre to pure simplicity and often influenced by eastern traditions.

"Peter Brook gave us the most beautiful silences in the theatre, but this last silence is infinitely sad," said French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak on Twitter.

"With him, the stage was stripped back to its most alive intensity. He bequeathed so much to us," she added, saying he would remain "forever the soul" of the Bouffes du Nord theatre in northern Paris where his work was based.

Source: AFP