How Sir Peter Hall changed theatre

Danny Woods
September 12, 2017

Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre from 2003 through 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".

"We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and Peter Hall's shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it", Rufus Norris, the National Theatre's current director, said.

Sir Peter Hall was the most important British theatre director of the past 60 years.

"All of us, including those in the new generation of theatremakers not immediately touched by his influence, are in his debt".

'Not only was he a great director of theatre and opera, he was a politician who fought for the Arts. "It is impossible to single out his greatest production", he said.

In 1973 he began a term as director of the National Theatre, where he served until 1988. Without him too it's entirely possible that the National Theatre's move to its contentious concrete home on the South Bank in the mid-70s, at a time of industrial unrest, would have ended on a decisive note of disaster. Two years later, he was asked to run it. Hall renamed it the Royal Shakespeare Company, or RSC, and theater critic Matt Wolf says the young director's approach gave the old theater a vitality and objective.

He also gave world premieres to Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, No Man's Land and Betrayal.

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Patrick Stewart, who performed with the RSC as a young actor, tweeted that Hall "transformed classical and modern United Kingdom theater and gave me a career". He transformed classical and modern United Kingdom theatre and gave me a career. As ever, Sir Peter coupled a potent political point with an innate sense of the theatrical.

Yet until illness put an end to Sir Peter Hall's career in his eighties, he carried on working, continued to bring rhythm and punch and clarity to classic and new plays and carried on agitating for more respect and more funding for the arts.

In 1955, when he was 25, Hall directed the first English-language production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot", an avant-garde drama more experienced directors had shunned.

Hall's landmark work as a theater director in the United Kingdom included John Barton's nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (2010, with Judi Dench).

In 1989 he worked with Dustin Hoffman on The Merchant Of Venice and in 2003 he collaborated with his daughter, the actress Rebecca Hall, on As You Like It.

His opera work also included productions for the Royal Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in NY and the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, where he staged Richard Wagner's "Ring Cycle" in 1983 to mark the centenary of the composer's death.

Actors, writers and directors have also taken to Twitter to express their sadness at Hall's death. He is survived by his fourth wife, Nicki; six children, including the actress Rebecca Hall ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"); and nine grandchildren.

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