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Andrzej Lukowski: Nonagenarian stars Brooks and Brook offer hope for us all in youth fixated culture

Mel Brooks in rehearsal for Young Frankenstein
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Similar surnames excepted, Peter Brook and Mel Brooks are not two men with a huge amount in common.

One is an avant-garde British stage directing legend who redefined how the world thought about theatre. The other is a titan of American comedy whose most successful film features a posse of cowboys having a farting contest. If you don’t know which is which, well, have fun finding out.

They do have two things in common, though. They are both nonagenarians, born in the mid-1920s (92-year-old Brook in Chiswick; 91-year-old Brooks in Brooklyn).

And in the last month they’ve both been over here pounding the publicity trail for their latest projects: Brook his new book, Tip of the Tongue; Brooks a major West End revamp of his 2007 musical Young Frankenstein. And as somebody who genuinely always assumed I’d be a mental and physical wreck by the age of 80, I find this incredibly inspiring.

Does that sound patronising? I hope not, though I will admit that when I came to interview Brooks the other day I was bricking it for the simple reason that I was worried he might be a frail shadow of his younger self and it would all just be a bit awkward.

Not a bit of it: he was smart and sharp and funny, greeting me with a hilariously lengthy anecdote about coming over to London earlier in the year to watch his friend Nathan Lane in the NT’s Angels in America.

After, he headed to the Savoy and spent all the money he had on him in a round of £50 cocktails called Showgirls that he was smooth-talked into buying by the staff. I wish I was leading that sort of life now, let alone in 55 years.

Alongside Brooks and Brook you can toss in the RSC’s legendary 91-year-old voice coach Cicely Berry (semi-retired since 2014 but still doing bits and bobs) and the indefatigable 92-year-old Blanche Marvin (who runs the Brook-inspired Empty Space Awards while still attending considerably more press nights than I do).

It is obviously not a huge number of people: you have to have something pretty good going on to want to keep working indefinitely. It also goes without saying that it’s a lottery how your body and mind hold up as you get older (Brooks was everything I wish my grandparents could have been in their last years).

But in a Western culture that’s still heavily youth-fixated, how great is it to have a clutch of role models to look up to as we move onwards?

It’s not totally unique to theatre – European film harbours a few venerable auteurs – but you’d struggle to find any other industry doing better in the English-speaking world. It feels significant, and inspiring, to have these people out there, still blazing their own trails.

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