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Sir Peter Hall

SIR PETER HALL CBE 1930-2017

Photo of Sir Peter Hall

Sir Peter Hall

The National Theatre is deeply saddened to announce the death of its former Director, Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre.

Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.

Peter Hall was an internationally celebrated stage director and theatre impresario, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled. His extraordinary career spanned more than half a century: in his mid-20s he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1960, aged 29, Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company which he led until 1968. The RSC realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London.

Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Peter Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank. He successfully established the company in its new home in spite of union unrest and widespread scepticism. After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, Sir Peter was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

Peter Hall’s prolific work as a theatre director included the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977). Other landmark productions included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Wars of the Roses (1963), The Oresteia (1981), Animal Farm (1984), Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). 

Peter Hall was also an internationally renowned opera director. He staged the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden (1970) and was Artistic Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1984 – 90) where he directed more than twenty productions. Peter Hall worked at many of the world’s leading houses including The Royal Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and Bayreuth where, in 1983, he staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle to honour the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.

Sir Peter was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Nicki, and children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca and Emma and nine grandchildren. His former wives, Leslie Caron, Jacqueline Taylor and Maria Ewing also survive him. There will be a private family funeral and details of a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

The National Theatre’s lights will be dimmed this evening on the South Bank and at all the other theatres where NT productions are playing.

 

NT QUOTES:

  • Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, said:

‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants and Peter Hall’s shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it. All of us, including those in the new generation of theatre-makers not immediately touched by his influence, are in his debt. His legendary tenacity and vision created an extraordinary and lasting legacy for us all.’

  • Nicholas Hytner, Director of the NT 2003 - 2015, said: 

‘Peter Hall was one of the great figures in British theatrical history, up there in a line of impresarios that stretches back to Burbage. Without him there would have been no Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre’s move to the South Bank might have ended in ignominious failure, and the whole idea of the theatre as a public service dedicated both to high seriousness and popularity would not have seized the public imagination. He was a man of great warmth, and mischievous wit. When I became Director of the National Theatre in 2003, he was unstinting in his support and always generous with his advice. He was the great theatrical buccaneer of the 20th century and has left a permanent mark on our culture.’

  • Sir Trevor Nunn, Director of the NT 1997 – 2003 said:

‘Peter Hall’s achievement defies definition, except that perhaps, it allows us to understand why we have the word ‘great’ in our language.  Peter’s greatness lay in his astonishing originality, his charismatic leadership, his unparalleled daring, his profound scholarship, his matchless articulacy and his visionary understanding of what we call ‘the theatre’ could be. In originating the RSC, he created an ensemble which led the world in Shakespeare production, but which triumphed to the same extent in presenting new plays of every kind. Not only a thrilling and penetrating director, he was also the great impresario of the age.  He alone had the showmanship and energy to establish the three ring circus of our unique National Theatre on the South Bank. Peter Hall is a legend, whose legacy will benefit many generations to come.   And yes, he was my beloved friend for fifty years.’

  • Sir Richard Eyre, Director of the NT 1988 – 1997 said:

‘Peter created the template of the modern director - part-magus, part-impresario, part-politician, part celebrity. He was – and is - the godfather (in both senses) of British theatre and like countless directors, writers and actors of several generations I have much to be grateful to him for.’

 

Peter Hall was born in 1930 in Bury St Edmunds and educated at the Perse School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. After his professional directing debut in 1953, he ran the Arts Theatre London where productions included the premiere, in 1955, of the English language version of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

In 1959, Peter Hall was appointed Director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre where, in 1960, he created the Royal Shakespeare Company, an ensemble dedicated as much to modern drama as it was to Shakespeare. The company not only played at Stratford but also expanded into its first London home, the Aldwych. His many productions for the RSC included The Wars of the Roses adapted with John Barton from Shakespeare's History plays, Hamlet (with David Warner) and The Government Inspector (with Paul Scofield); as well as premieres of works by Harold Pinter (The Homecoming, Landscape and Silence) and plays by Simon Gray and Edward Albee. Peter Hall left the RSC in 1968 after almost ten years as its Director. He returned to the company to direct All's Well That Ends Well (1992) and Julius Caesar (1995), and in 2000-2001 he directed John Barton's epic Tantalus, an RSC co-production with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

In 1973, Peter Hall became Director of the National Theatre. He remained in post until 1988, moving the company from the Old Vic to the new purpose-built building on the South Bank and establishing the organisation in its new home. Among the productions he directed during this time were the premieres of Pinter's No Man's Land (with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson), Betrayal (with Michael Gambon, Daniel Massey and Penelope Wilton) and Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (with Paul Scofield and Simon Callow); Hamlet (with Albert Finney); Happy Days (with Peggy Ashcroft); his own adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm; and landmark productions of Aeschylus' The Oresteia (in Tony Harrison's version with music by Harrison Birtwistle) and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins). Among the many other plays produced under his aegis were Bill Bryden's staging of The Mysteries; Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge directed by Alan Ayckbourn; Richard Eyre's production of Guys and Dolls; and Pravda by Howard Brenton and David Hare.

Peter Hall returned to the National Theatre in 1996 to direct Sophocles' The Oedipus Plays (with Alan Howard); and, in 2002, Euripides' The Bacchai (with Greg Hicks). His final production there was Twelfth Night in 2011, mounted by the company to celebrate his 80th birthday, with his daughter Rebecca Hall as Viola.

When he left the National Theatre in 1988 he formed The Peter Hall Company, based in the West End. It launched with productions of Orpheus Descending (with Vanessa Redgrave) and The Merchant of Venice (with Dustin Hoffman) and went on to stage more than 60 productions in association with a number of well known producing partners including Duncan Weldon, Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt. In addition to a season at the Old Vic in the 1990s, the company went on to enjoy a long collaboration with the Theatre Royal Bath, where a series of annual festivals and one-off productions were staged from 2003 to 2011; many were subsequently seen on UK and international tours and in the West End.

Peter Hall Company productions included Wilde's An Ideal Husband (with Martin Shaw), Pam Gems' Piaf (with Elaine Paige), Ibsen's The Master Builder (with Alan Bates), Hamlet (with Stephen Dillane), Sheridan's The Rivals (with Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles), Shaw's The Apple Cart, Henry James's Portrait of a Lady in a new adaptation by Nicki Frei, Ronald Harwood's The Dresser (with Julian Glover and Nicholas Lyndhurst), Brian Clark's Whose Life is it Anyway (with Kim Cattrall), the 50th anniversary production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Coward's Hay Fever (with Judi Dench), David Hare's Amy's View and Coward's The Vortex (both with Felicity Kendal), Shakespeare's As You Like It (with Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens) and Shaw's Pygmalion (with Tim Piggott-Smith and Michelle Dockery).

Peter Hall's final productions for his company were Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts One and Two, staged at the Theatre Royal Bath in 2011.

In 2003 Peter Hall was invited to become the Founding Director of a new theatre being built in Kingston on Thames. For the next five years he oversaw the creation of The Rose Theatre, Kingston and directed a number of productions there including Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (which opened the building) and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (with Judi Dench as Titania). He became the theatre's Director Emeritus in 2008.

In addition to his prolific work as a theatre director, Peter Hall was also an internationally celebrated opera director. He had a particularly close relationship with Glyndebourne Festival Opera where he was Artistic Director from 1984 to 1990 and for whom he staged more than 20 productions. These included defining interpretations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas as well as acclaimed productions of works by Monteverdi, Britten, Tippett and Verdi. He also directed at many of the world's leading opera houses including the Royal Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Bayreuth Festival Opera where he directed Wagner's Ring Cycle, conducted by Georg Solti, for the 1983 season.

Peter Hall's films for cinema and TV included Two Into Three Won't Go (with Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom), Perfect Friday (with Stanley Baker, Ursula Andress, David Warner), Akenfield, The Camomile Lawn and The Final Passage, as well as a number of his opera productions. In 2005 he was the subject of a two-hour documentary for the South Bank Show: Peter Hall, 50 Years in Theatre.

His books on theatre and play texts included Exposed by the Mask, The Necessary Theatre and Shakespeare's Advice to the Players; new versions of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman and The Wild Duck (both with Inga Stina Ewbank); an adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm; and, in association with Nicki Frei, a new translation of Feydeau's An Absolute Turkey. The Peter Hall Diaries – the Story of a Dramatic Battle, edited by John Goodwin and tracing the opening years of the NT on the South Bank, were first published in 1983 and reissued in 2000. His autobiography Making an Exhibition of Myself was published in 1993.

Peter Hall's many professional awards and nominations included two Tony Awards, and three awards for Lifetime Achievement in the arts. He was awarded the CBE in 1963 and knighted in 1977 for his services to the theatre. Peter Hall held honorary doctorates from a number of universities including Cambridge, York, Bath and London. He also held the Wortham Chair in Performing Arts at the University of Houston (1999-2002) and was Chancellor of Kingston University from 2000 to 2013.

For further information about Peter Hall, please contact: Mary Parker on mparker@nationaltheatre.org.uk

 

Peter Hall in conversation with Nicholas Hytner

Peter Hall (Artistic Director of the National Theatre, 1973-1988) reflects on his career, directing the original English-language production of Waiting for Godot, working with Harold Pinter and staging Shakespeare.

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