Sir Peter Hall

Definition

Theater

  • (1930 - ) British director and theater manager.Hall, who began directing as a student at Cambridge, madehis name by presenting the first English-language production of Beckett'sWaiting for Godot (1955) at the Arts Theatre, London. He then found acclaim as an interpreter of Shakespeare, with productions of Love's Labour's Lost (1956) and Coriolanus (1959) atStratford-upon-Avon. In 1960 he established the Royal ShakespeareCompany at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford.He added modern plays to the repertoire and extended the season fromsix months to all year round by leasing the Aldwych Theatre in London.He also strengthened the company by introducing long-term contracts:his first contract players included Peggy Ashcroft, Peter O'Toole,and Dorothy Tutin.

    Other changes made by Hall included the introduction of asimplified realism, influenced by Bertolt Brecht and emphasized bythe sparse sets of John Bury (1925 - 2000). Among his most successfulproductions were The Wars of the Roses cycle (1963 - 64),Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (1965), and Macbeth (1967),a production subsequently taken to Moscow. In the same year, Hallresigned to become director of the Royal Covent Garden Opera Company.

    In 1973 Hall replaced Laurence Olivier as head of the NationalTheatre (see Royal National Theatre). A noted earlyproduction was Beckett's Happy Days (1974). Beckett, whoattended rehearsals, felt that the stage was not kept empty and openenough to show the characters' isolation. The following yearHall directed the company's last play at the Old Vic, a productionof Hamlet starring Albert Finney.

    In 1976 the National Theatre finally moved into its new homeon the South Bank. Hall was frequently criticized for the delay inrelocation; his diary entry for a meeting with the royal family in1975 noted:

    As we were presented, the Queen asked me when the NationalTheatre would open. I said I didn't know. The Queen Mother asked whenthe National Theatre would open. I said I didn't know. The Princeof Wales asked me when the National Theatre would open. I said I didn'tknow.
    Hall's successes at the new venue included such varied worksas Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce (1977), Peter Shaffer's Amadeus(1979), and Aeschylus's The Oresteia (1981). His diaries, publishedin 1983, give a fascinating picture of his often troubled tenure atthe theater. He resigned in 1988, following criticism of his outsideactivities, to create his own transatlantic company. This employedactors from Britain and America in productions that transferredbetween London and New York, including The Merchant of Venice(with Dustin Hoffman) and A Streetcar Named Desire (with Jessica Lange).Hall disbanded the company in 1998, following his failure to secure Arts Council backing, and for the next decade worked largely in the USA; his productions there included the 10-hour epic Tantalus (2000), a cycle of plays about the Trojan War. In 2008 he was appointed artistic director(subsequently director emeritus) of the new Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames, a thrust stage theater modelled partly on its Elizabethan namesake.
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