Peter Hall and Judi Dench rehearsing The Importance of Being Earnest, 1982
Sir Peter Hall (1930-2017)2:40, 12th September 2017
Founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and former director of the National Theatre (NT) Sir Peter Hall has died aged 86. He passed away on 11 September at University College Hospital in London, surrounded by family. He is regarded as one of the most prominent directors in the world.
Hall was born in Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk. He won a scholarship to The Perse School in Cambridge and read English at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge University. In 1955 he premiered Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the UK, before going on to found the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1960 at the age of 29.
In 1973, Hall was appointed the director of the NT, which he was responsible for moving from the Old Vic to its current purpose-built home on the South Bank. He held his position there for 15 years; until 1988.
Following his departure from the NT, Hall went on to launch his own commercial company, the Peter Hall Company, with which he produced shows in both the West End and on Broadway. In 2003 he was founding director of the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames.
In 2011, he returned to the NT with Twelfth Night, in which his daughter Rebecca played Viola. The production was to be his last at the NT, and was a mark of his 80th birthday. The same year, Hall was diagnosed with dementia.
Throughout his life, Hall championed public funding for the arts, and he premiered multiple iconic theatre productions, among them Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming in 1965 and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus in 1979.
As well as theatre, Hall was renowned as an opera director, and staged the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden in 1970. Between 1984 and 1990 he was the artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
Past NT directors lamented the news of his death and talked of his legacy in the shaping of national and international theatre.
‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants and Peter Hall’s shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it,’ said current director of the NT Rufus Norris. ‘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.’
Sir Nicholas Hytner, who was the director of the NT between 2003 and 2017, described Hall as ‘one of the great figures in British theatrical history, up there in a line of impresarios that stretches back to Burbage’. ‘Peter Hall’s achievement defies definition, expect that perhaps, it allows us to understand why we have the word “great” in our language,’ said Sir Trevor Nunn, NT director between 1997 and 2003. Sir Richard Eyre, who took over from Hall, said that he ‘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.’