Peter Hall

Peter Hall (director).jpg
Hall at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards, 2011
Peter Reginald Frederick Hall

(1930-11-22)22 November 1930
Died11 September 2017(2017-09-11) (aged 86)
London, England
Years active1953–2011
(m. 1956; div. 1965)
Jacqueline Taylor
(m. 1965; div. 1981)
(m. 1982; div. 1990)
Nicki Frei
(m. 1990)
Children6; including Christopher, Jennifer, Edward and Rebecca

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 2018, the Laurence Olivier Awards, recognizing achievements in London theatre, changed the award for Best Director to the Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director.

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.[1][2]

Early life and career

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.[3][4] He won a scholarship to The Perse School in Cambridge.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

From 1955 to 1957, Hall ran the Arts Theatre in London where he directed the English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot in 1955.[8][9] 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)[10] and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958),[11][page needed] and Harold Pinter.[12] Other productions at The Arts included the English language premiere of The Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh.[13]

Royal Shakespeare Company

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)[9] to realise his vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both modern and classic texts, with a distinctive house style.[7] 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".[14] Hall left the RSC in 1968 after almost ten years as its director.

At the National Theatre

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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."[15] 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.[16]

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 (in a version by Tony Harrison with music by Harrison Birtwistle, 1981) 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 with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins (1987).

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 alongside Simon Callow as Sir Toby Belch in the Cottesloe Theatre.

Later theatre career

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 (with Elaine Paige, 1993), Hamlet (with Stephen Dillane, 1994), Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder (with Alan Bates, 1995), A Streetcar Named Desire (with Jessica Lange, 1995), Julian Barry's Lenny (with Eddie Izzard, 1999), As You Like It (with Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens, 2003), Brian Clark's Whose Life is it Anyway? (with Kim Cattrall, 2005), the fiftieth anniversary production of Waiting for Godot,[17] Coward's Hay Fever (with Judi Dench, 2006) and Shaw's Pygmalion (with Tim Pigott-Smith and Michelle Dockery, 2007). Hall's final productions for his company were Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 (2011), staged at the Theatre Royal Bath.[18]

Hall directed extensively in the United States including the world premiere of John Guare's Four Baboons Adoring the Sun (Lincoln Center, 1992), 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.[19]

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 (with Judi Dench as Titania, 2010). Hall was also appointed "Director Emeritus" of The Rose Kingston.[8]


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.[20] He was able to play the piano well enough to read opera scores.[20] His first major project was Schoenberg's Moses und Aron at Covent Garden, which led on to further productions at that house.[20] 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,[21] 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.[22] The production was played until 1986.[21] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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'".[20]

Film and TV

Hall's films for cinema and TV include Akenfield (1974), a fictionalisation based on Ronald Blythe's oral history 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. His only American studio movie, the 1995 erotic thriller Never Talk to Strangers, "proved to me that I have no aptitude whatever for surviving the Hollywood rat race," as Hall wrote in the updated edition of his memoir Making an Exhibition of Myself.[25] 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.[8] He was also influenced in his understanding of Shakespeare by the literary critic and teacher F. R. Leavis.[26] He subsequently acted in three German films in the 1970s: Der Fußgänger (The Pedestrian, directed by Maximilian Schell, 1973),[27] Als Mutter streikte (When Mother Went on Strike, 1974)[28] and Der letzte Schrei (The Last Word, 1974).[29]


His books on theatre include The Necessary Theatre (Nick Hern, 1999), Exposed by the Mask (Oberon, 2000) and Shakespeare's Advice to the Players (Oberon, 2003). The Peter Hall Diaries – the Story of a Dramatic Battle, edited by John Goodwin (Hamish Hamilton) 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 (Sinclair-Stevenson), was published in 1993.[30]


Peter Hall was appointed a CBE in 1963 and knighted in 1977 for his services to the theatre.[21] 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.[clarification needed] In 2005 Hall was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[31] He was Chancellor of Kingston University (2000–2013),[21] 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]

Personal life

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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).[8]

Hall worked with all his children:[32] 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.[33]

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".[9]

Death and legacy

On 11 September 2017, Hall died from pneumonia at University College Hospital, London, surrounded by family. He was 86 years old.[34][35]

His obituary in The Times declared him "the most important figure in British theatre for half a century"[36] and a Royal National Theatre statement declared that Hall's "influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled".[37]

Many luminaries of British theatre paid tribute to Hall. Nicholas Hytner said: "Without him there would have been no Royal Shakespeare Company."[38] Trevor Nunn said: "Not only a thrilling director, he was the great impresario of the age."[38] 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."[39] 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."[40] 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".[41]

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."[42]

In April 2018, the Society of London Theatre, which presents the annual Laurence Olivier Awards recognizing achievements in London theatre, changed the award for Best Director to the Sir Peter Hall Award for Best Director.[43]

Selected works

Stage productions

Hall published a complete list of his productions in his autobiography:[44]

Film and television

Hall published a complete list of his films in his autobiography:[44]



  1. ^ "Sir Peter Hall: A giant of British theatre". BBC News. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  2. ^ Harrod, Horatia (30 July 2011). "Interview: Sir Peter Hall". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022.
  3. ^ Fay, Stephen (1995). Power Play: The Life and Times of Peter Hall. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 25.
  4. ^ Current Biography Yearbook (volume 23). H. W. Wilson. 1963. p. 179.
  5. ^ Hall, Peter (1993). Making an Exhibition of Myself: the autobiography of Peter Hall. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. p. 36.
  6. ^ Addenbroke, David (1974). The Royal Shakespeare Company. London: William Kimber & Co. p. 27.
  7. ^ a b "Sir Peter Hall". The Daily Telegraph. 12 September 2017. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 12 September 2017. (subscription required)
  8. ^ a b c d Billington, Michael (12 September 2017). "Sir Peter Hall obituary: powerful force in British theatre / Creator of the Royal Shakespeare Company who built up the National and championed regional playhouses". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Lawson, Mark (12 September 2017). "Peter Hall: the peerless showman who transformed British theatre". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  10. ^ Kolin, Philip C. (1998). Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 104. ISBN 9780313303067.
  11. ^ Stephens, Frances, ed. (1958). Theatre World Annual (London). Vol. 9. Macmillan.
  12. ^ Sir Peter Hall Remembered (Television production). BBC. 9 September 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: February 24". Playbill. 24 February 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  14. ^ Wardle, Irving (6 January 1991). "Profile of Peter Hall". The Independent on Sunday.
  15. ^ Spencer, Charles (31 October 2005). "A Titan who Transformed Theatre". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  16. ^ Rosenthal, Daniel (2013). The National Theatre Story. London: Oberon Books. p. 251.
  17. ^ Peter Hall (24 August 2005). "Godot almighty". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  18. ^ Billington, Michael (28 July 2011). "Henry IV Parts One and Two – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  19. ^ Jones, Kenneth (30 December 2001). "Documentary on Peter Hall and John Barton's Tantalus". Playbill. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  20. ^ a b c d Christiansen, Rupert. Peter Hall, 1930-2017. Opera, Vol.68 No.11, November 2017, p1428-32.
  21. ^ a b c d "Peter Hall" (in German). Bayreuth Festival. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  22. ^ Fay, Stephen; Wood, Roger (1984). The Ring: Anatomy of an Opera. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd.
  23. ^ Coghlan, Alexandra (12 August 2016). "A Midsummer Night's Dream, Glyndebourne". The Arts Desk.
  24. ^ Christiansen, Rupert (25 July 2016). "Peter Hall: the Hallmark of operatic excellence". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  25. ^ Hall, Peter (2000). Making an Exhibition of Myself. Oberon Books. ISBN 184943686X.
  26. ^ Storer, Richard (2009). F.R. Leavis. Routledge. p. 160. ISBN 9781134220250.
  27. ^ "Der Fußgänger / Regie Maximilian Schell / Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1973" (in German). Deutsches Filmhaus. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  28. ^ "Als Mutter streikte Spielfilm Deutschland 1973 / SWR Fernsehen RP" (in German). ARD. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  29. ^ "Der letzte Schrei / 1974" (in German). Deutsches Filmhaus. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  30. ^ "Sir Peter Hall". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  31. ^ Rawson, Christopher (1 February 2006). "Theater Hall of Fame inducts Thompson, Lithgow, others". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  32. ^ Dougary, Ginny (4 April 2009). "The conversation: Peter Hall". The Times.
  33. ^ Hoggard, Liz (7 January 2017). "'Dementia is a very sad disease. It's a difficult thing for a family to adjust to'". The Times. Retrieved 12 September 2017. (subscription required)
  34. ^ "Sir Peter Hall: Theatre giant dies aged 86". BBC News. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  35. ^ Nightingale, Benedict (12 September 2017). "Peter Hall, British Theater Director and Founder of Royal Shakespeare Company, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  36. ^ "Obituary: Sir Peter Hall". The Times, 13 September 2017
  37. ^ "Statement: Sir Peter Hall". National Theatre, 12 September 2017.
  38. ^ a b "Sir Peter Hall, Royal Shakespeare Company founder, dies aged 86". Daily Telegraph', 12 September 2017.
  39. ^ "Tributes paid to legendary director and 'great impresario of the age' following his death in London". The Guardian, 12 September 2017.
  40. ^ "Broadcasting House". BBC Radio 4, 17 September 2017.
  41. ^ "Last Word: Sir Peter Hall". BBC Radio 4, 15 September 2017.
  42. ^ Wiegand, Chris; Tilden, Imogen (12 September 2017). "'Visionary, master diplomat – and absolute smoothie': stars pay tribute to Peter Hall". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  43. ^ Mitchell, Robert (10 April 2018). "Olivier Awards Rename Prize After Peter Hall Following 'In Memoriam' Blunder". Variety. Archived from the original on 20 April 2022. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  44. ^ a b Hall, Peter (2000). "List of Productions". Making an Exhibition of Myself: the autobiography of Peter Hall. Oberon Books. pp. 441–451. ISBN 9781849436861.
  45. ^ "Peter Hall". Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  46. ^ "John Gabriel Borkman / Henrik Ibsen ; English version and introduction by Inga-Stina Ewbank and Peter Hall. book online read or download". Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  47. ^ "Peter Hall's Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  48. ^ "The Wild Duck \/ John Gabriel Borkman". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  49. ^ "The Autobiography of Peter Hall: Making an Exhibition of Myself". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  50. ^ "An Absolute Turkey". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  51. ^ "Review of The Master Builder". Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  52. ^ "". Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  53. ^ "Nick Hern Books - The Necessary Theatre By Peter Hall". Nick Hern Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  54. ^ "Exposed by the Mask: Form and Language in Drama". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  55. ^ "Shakespeare's Advice to the Players". Oberon Books. Retrieved 14 September 2017.

Further reading