Sir Peter Hall

Sir Peter Hall

The mentor

Published in 2005

Titan of British theatre and one of the world’s great Shakespearean directors, Sir Peter Hall, 73, has gained worldwide recognition over the past half-century for more than 200 major theatre productions, including some 30 productions of Shakespeare, 40 operas and 10 films.

Titan of British theatre
Sir Peter’s prodigious output can be traced to his lifelong fascination with the theatre, an interest that began when he was only four. As a precocious schoolboy from Bury St. Edmunds, England, he would travel to London during his holidays to see six or seven plays a week. “I had known in my soul since I was 14 that I was going to be a director in the theatre,” he says. “It was an obsession more than a hope.”

University years
While at Cambridge, Sir Peter produced and acted in more than 20 plays before receiving his master of arts degree in 1953. That same year he formed the Elizabethan Theatre Company and staged his first professional production at the Theatre Royal Windsor.

After two years at the Oxford Playhouse, he ran the Arts Theatre in London (1955-1957), notably directing the first English-language production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1955).

Royal Shakespeare Company
In 1960, Sir Peter created the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). During nearly 10 years at the RSC’s helm, he directed 18 plays. Key productions included The Wars of Roses (1963-64), David Warners’s Hamlet (1965), The Government Inspector (1965) with Paul Scofield and premieres of plays by Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and Simon Gray.

Over the past three decades, Sir Peter has continued to make his mark on the theatre. For 15 years (1973-1988), he led the Royal National Theatre (RNT), moving it into the new building on London’s South Bank. Landmark productions there included Pinter’s No Man’s Land with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson (1975), Tamburlaine the Great with Albert Finney (1976), Amadeus by Peter Shaffer (1979), Aeschylus’ Oresteia (1981), and Antony and Cleopatra with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins (1987). In 2002, Sir Peter returned to the RNT to direct Euripides’ Bacchai which was also seen in Epidaurus, in Greece.

His own company
In 1988, he launched the Peter Hall Company, which has to date presented some 40 productions in London, New York, Europe and Australia.

From 1984 to 1990, Sir Peter was artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, receiving praise for productions that have inspired opera-goers from New York to Bayreuth.

Author of five books
Sir Peter has communicated his insights in his five books and through his teaching. “The only way to remain creative is to understand the new and listen to the young,” remarks Sir Peter, who has lectured at Houston University, at Cambridge and at Kingston University where he is Chancellor.

Among Sir Peter’s many honours are a London Theatre Critics’ Award for Best Director (The Wars of the Roses, 1963), two Tony Awards (The Homecoming, 1966, and Amadeus, 1981) and a Laurence Olivier Award for Lifetime Achievement (1999). Appointed a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1965, he was knighted in 1977.

Sir Peter Hall – soon to become artistic director of a new English theatre company – remains indefatigable in staging plays and opera around the globe. Says Harold Pinter: “He’s a phenomenon. I don’t know anybody with such enthusiasm, energy and stamina.”

Sir Peter Hall died in September 2017.