The Empty Space, A book about the theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate, by Peter Brook

My Copy: 9780684829579 (image from

I had a hard time getting through this slim volume because there was just so much to it. The writing style is pretty lofty for those who aren’t expecting it, and the first few pages could throw you for a loop.

I still got sucked in anyway, because it painted a picture, pros and cons of the theater and theater experience weaving in and out of the pages.

The Empty Space is all about the theater from the perspective of someone who’s acted, assisted, directed, and done pretty much anything related to the stage. I’m going to assume this is meant the most for theater students, especially at the college level and beyond. However, I think it’s a useful book for anyone who wants to understand theater better, the good and the bad.

The “Deadly,” “Holy,” “Rough,” and “Immediate” topics in the title refer to the ways theater is seen or manifests itself through performances or audience interactions. I love the descriptors, because many performances hit most of these labels at some point, sometimes in the same night. “Holy” is the most common descriptor in some respects: there’s an inherent bias against the theater in this century, that it’s too upper crust, too expensive, too poetic and beyond common understanding, and because of this, it’s untouchable.

Well, read a play from Shakespeare and all these crazy descriptors come through instead, the “holy” rubs against the “rough” and can change the audience’s reaction to what’s going on.

I don’t want to give too much away as far as the revelations go that Mr. Brook exposes for consideration, but it’s worth a look.

I find it funny that I spent over a year reading Shakespeare, but this author helped me understand Shakespeare’s genius a bit better. I have a better grasp as to why you can typically do a Shakespeare play and have it in so many different formats, time periods, costume choices, etc, and reach audiences all over the world.

I do believe this book is good for anybody interested in theater. Theater is more fascinating to me now that I’ve read this book, a book I wasn’t originally keen to read (I’m taking Helen Mirren’s Masterclass eventually and this is one of her first recommended readings).

It’s an odd book if you’re not used to a more poetic style of writing, and gives a lot of names and info that you just have to absorb…as if you were reading a poem and trying to get meaning out of it.

It’s not as hard as poetry, thankfully, but just giving you a heads up.

Want to understand theater, playwriting, acting, and/or directing better? Then I’ll definitely recommend this book.

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