Hall at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2011
Peter Reginald Frederick Hall
22 November 1930
|Died||11 September 2017 86) (aged|
University College Hospital, London, England
(m. 1956;div. 1965)
(m. 1965;div. 1981)
(m. 1982;div. 1990)
Nicola (Nicki) Frei
Sir Peter Reginald Frederick Hall, CBE (22 November 1930 – 11 September 2017), was an English theatre, opera and film director. His obituary in The Times declared him "the most important figure in British theatre for half a century" and on his death, a Royal National Theatre statement declared that Hall's "influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled".
In 1955, Hall introduced London audiences to the work of Samuel Beckett with the UK premiere of Waiting for Godot . Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (1960–68) and went on to build an international reputation in theatre, opera, film and television. He was director of the National Theatre (1973–88) and artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1984–1990). He formed the Peter Hall Company (1998–2011) and became founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston in 2003. Throughout his career, he was a tenacious champion of public funding for the arts.
Peter Reginald Frederick Hall was born in Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds, the only son of Grace Florence (née Pamment) and Reginald Edward Arthur Hall. His father was a stationmaster and the family lived for some time at Great Shelford Station.He won a scholarship to The Perse School in Cambridge. Before taking up a further scholarship to read English at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, Hall did his National Service in Germany at the RAF Headquarters for Education in Bückeburg. Whilst studying at Cambridge he produced and acted in a number of plays, directing five in his final year and a further three for The Marlowe Society Summer Festival. He served on the University Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) committee before graduating in 1953. In the same year, Hall staged his first professional play, The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham, at The Theatre Royal Windsor. In 1954 and 1955, Hall was the director of the Oxford Playhouse where he directed several later prominent young actors including Ronnie Barker and Billie Whitelaw. Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith were also part of the company as acting Assistants Stage Managers.
From 1955–1957, Hall ran the Arts Theatre in London where he directed the English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot in 1955. The production's success transformed his career overnight and attracted the attention, among others, of Tennessee Williams, for whom he would direct the London premieres of Camino Real (1957) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), [ page needed ] and Harold Pinter. Other productions at The Arts included the English language premiere of The Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh.
Hall made his debut at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1956 with Love's Labour's Lost : his productions there in the 1957–1959 seasons included Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft as Imogen, Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier and A Midsummer Night's Dream with Charles Laughton. In 1960, aged 29, Hall succeeded Glen Byam Shaw as director of the theatre, expanded operations to be all-year, and founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to realise his vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both modern and classic texts, with a distinctive house style. The company not only played in Stratford but expanded into the Aldwych Theatre, its first London home.
Hall's many productions for the RSC included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Government Inspector (1966, with Paul Scofield), the world premiere of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (1965) and The Wars of the Roses (1963) adapted with John Barton from Shakespeare's history plays. The latter was described as "the greatest Shakespearian event in living memory which also laid down the doctrine of Shakespearian relevance to the modern world".Hall left the RSC in 1968 after almost ten years as its director.
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Hall was appointed director of the National Theatre (NT) in 1973 and led the organisation for fifteen years until 1988. He supervised the move from the Old Vic to the new purpose-built complex on London's South Bank "in the face of wide-spread scepticism and violent union unrest, turning a potential catastrophe into the great success story it remains today."Frustrated by construction delays, Hall decided to move the company into the still-unfinished building and to open it theatre by theatre as each neared completion. Extracts from his production of Tamburlaine the Great with Albert Finney were performed out on the terraces, free to passers-by.
Hall directed thirty-three productions for the NT including the world premieres of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (1975, with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (1979, with Paul Scofield and Simon Callow), and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce . Other landmark productions included The Oresteia (1981, in a version by Tony Harrison with music by Harrison Birtwistle) which became the first Greek play to be performed by a foreign company at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus; Animal Farm (in his own adaptation, 1984); and Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins).
Hall returned to the NT for the last time in 2011 with a production of Twelfth Night mounted by the company to celebrate his eightieth birthday. His daughter, Rebecca Hall, played Viola.
Upon leaving the NT in 1988, Hall launched his own commercial company with productions in the West End and on Broadway of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending (with Vanessa Redgrave) and The Merchant of Venice (with Dustin Hoffman). The Peter Hall Company went on to stage more than sixty plays in association with a number of producing partners including Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt. In addition to an ensemble repertory season at the Old Vic (1997), the company enjoyed a long collaboration with the Theatre Royal, Bath where a series of summer festivals were staged from 2003–2011: many productions were subsequently performed on domestic and international tours and in the West End. The plays produced included Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (1992), Pam Gems' Piaf (1993, with Elaine Paige), Hamlet (1994, with Stephen Dillane), Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder (1995, with Alan Bates), A Streetcar Named Desire (1997, with Jessica Lange), Julian Barry's Lenny (1999, with Eddie Izzard), As You Like It (2003, with Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens), Brian Clark's Whose Life is it Anyway? (2005, with Kim Cattrall), the fiftieth anniversary production of Waiting for Godot, Coward's Hay Fever (2006, with Judi Dench) and Shaw's Pygmalion (2007, with Tim Pigott-Smith and Michelle Dockery). Hall's final productions for his company were Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 (2011), staged at the Theatre Royal Bath.
Hall directed extensively in the United States including the world premiere of John Guare's Four Baboons Adoring the Sun (1992, Lincoln Center), three Shakespeare plays with Center Theater Group, Los Angeles (1999 and 2001) and John Barton's nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000), an RSC co-production with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
In 2003, Hall became the founding director of The Rose Theatre – a new venue to be constructed in Kingston upon Thames whose design was inspired by the Elizabethan original. He directed a number of productions there including Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, which opened the building in 2008, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (2010, with Judi Dench as Titania). Hall was also appointed "Director Emeritus" of The Rose Kingston.
Peter Hall was also an internationally celebrated opera director. His first experience was in 1957, directing The Moon and Sixpence by John Gardner at Sadler's Wells.He was able to play the piano well enough to read opera scores. His first major project was Schoenberg's Moses und Aron at Covent Garden, which led on to further productions at that house. Hall worked at many of the world's leading houses as well as Royal Opera House, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Bayreuth Festival where he, with conductor Georg Solti, directed Wagner's Ring Cycle ( Der Ring des Nibelungen ) in 1983 to honour the centenary of the composer's death. The production was played until 1986. Hall staged the world premieres of Michael Tippett's The Knot Garden (1970) and New Year (1989). He had a close relationship with the Glyndebourne Festival where he was artistic director from 1984 to 1990, directing more than twenty productions including the Mozart/Da Ponte operas. His production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981) was revived nine times, most recently 35 years after its premiere, in August 2016. Hall also directed Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten, Cavalli's La Calisto , Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (all with Janet Baker); L'incoronazione di Poppea and Carmen - both with his then wife, Maria Ewing, with whom he also staged a celebrated Salome (The Royal Opera London and L.A. Opera) in 1986. Opera magazine noted Hall's characteristics as (in relation to La Cenerentola at Glyndebourne) "dignity and emotional veracity", recalling that "he would always insist that 'the singers, like actors, played off each other'".
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Hall's films for cinema and TV include Akenfield (1974), based on Ronald Blythe's novel and filmed in Blythe's native Suffolk with a cast of local people. It was restored and relaunched in 2016 by the BFI. Hall's film She's Been Away was written by Stephen Poliakoff and starred Peggy Ashcroft and Geraldine James who both won awards for their performances at the Venice Film Festival. Hall also directed The Camomile Lawn and The Final Passage for Channel 4 television, as well as a number of his opera and stage productions. For several years during the 1970s he presented the arts programme Aquarius for London Weekend Television. In 2005 he was the subject of a two-hour documentary for The South Bank Show: Peter Hall, Fifty Years in Theatre.
Hall began acting as a student at Cambridge University, where Dadie Rylands taught him to speak Shakespearean verse.He was also influenced in his understanding of Shakespeare by the literary critic and teacher F. R. Leavis. He subsequently acted in three German films in the 1970s: Der Fußgänger (The Pedestrian, directed by Maximilian Schell, 1973), Als Mutter streikte (When Mother Went on Strike, 1974) and Der letzte Schrei (The Last Word, 1974).
His books on theatre include The Necessary Theatre (1999), Exposed by the Mask (2000) and Shakespeare's Advice to the Players (2003). The Peter Hall Diaries – the Story of a Dramatic Battle, edited by John Goodwin, were first published in 1983 and documented his struggle to establish the National Theatre on the South Bank. His autobiography, Making an Exhibition of Myself, was published in 1993.
Peter Hall was appointed a CBE in 1963 and knighted in 1977 for his services to the theatre. [ clarification needed ] In 2005 Hall was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. He was Chancellor of Kingston University (2000–2013), held the Wortham Chair in Performing Arts at the University of Houston (1999–2002) and was awarded honorary doctorates from a number of universities including Cambridge, York, Liverpool, Bath and London.[ citation needed ]He was awarded the Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1965), received the Hamburg University Shakespeare Prize (1967) and was elected Member of the Athens Academy for Services to Greek Drama (2004). His professional awards and nominations included two Tony Awards (The Homecoming and Amadeus) and four awards for lifetime achievement in the arts.
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Hall was married four times. He had six children and nine grandchildren. His first wife was French actress Leslie Caron, with whom he had a son, Christopher (b. 1957), and a daughter, Jennifer (b. 1958). With his second wife, Jacqueline Taylor, he had a son, Edward (b. 1966), and a daughter, Lucy (b. 1969). Hall married American opera singer Maria Ewing in 1982 with whom he had one daughter, Rebecca (b. 1982). He was finally married to Nicki Frei; the couple had one daughter, Emma (b. 1992).
Hall worked with all his children:for the National Theatre, Jennifer played Miranda in The Tempest (1988); Rebecca, aged nine, played young Sophie in the Channel 4 adaptation of The Camomile Lawn, for The Peter Hall Company she played Vivie in Mrs Warren's Profession (2002), Rosalind in As You Like It (2003), Maria in Gallileo's Daughter (2004) and, for the NT, Viola in Twelfth Night (2011); Emma, aged two, played Joseph in Jacob (2004, TV Movie); for the Peter Hall Company, Lucy designed Hamlet (1994), Cuckoos (2003) and Whose Life is it Anyway? (2005); Christopher produced the Channel 4 television drama The Final Passage (1996); Edward co-directed the stage epic Tantalus (2000).
Hall was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and retired from public life.
Hall was described by Guardian contributor Mark Lawson as a "committed atheist, from as early as his 20s", leading "to a punishing work rate in his hurry to get everything done".
On 11 September 2017, Hall died from pneumonia at University College Hospital, London, surrounded by family. He was 86 years old.
His obituary in The Times declared him “the most important figure in British theatre for half a century”and a Royal National Theatre statement declared that Hall's “influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled”.
Many luminaries of British theatre paid tribute to Hall. Nicholas Hytner said: “Without him there would have been no Royal Shakespeare Company.”Trevor Nunn said: “Not only a thrilling director, he was the great impresario of the age.” Richard Eyre called Hall the “godfather” of British theatre: “Peter created the template of the modern director – part-magus, part-impresario, part-politician, part celebrity.” Impresario Cameron Mackintosh said: “It’s thanks to Peter Hall that people like Trevor Nunn, Nicholas Hytner and Sam Mendes transformed musical theatre around the world.” Theatre critic Michael Coveney said that he believed Hall's production of The Wars of the Roses “recast the [Shakespeare] history plays and put them at the centre of our culture”.
Peter Brook said: "Peter was a man for all seasons – he could play any part that was needed". Elaine Paige said: "Peter Hall had absolute authority and, as a heavyweight of the theatre, real presence." Griff Rhys Jones said: "Peter was an absolute smoothie, the most charming and diplomatic man" and Samuel West said "Peter was an extraordinarily energetic, imaginative director – if you left him in the corner of a room he’d direct a play – but he was also a great campaigner. He never stopped arguing for the role of subsidised art in a civilised society and its ability to change people’s lives."
Hall published a complete list of his productions in his autobiography:
Hall published a complete list of his films in his autobiography:
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