UPDATE Wednesday: Broadway and London’s West End theaters and related venues will dim their lights Friday evening in honor of Sir Peter Hall, who died Monday. Broadway will darken for one minute, beginning at 7:45 PM local time. In London, the lights will go down for a minute beginning 7 PM, also local time.
“Peter Hall was an unrelenting advocate for the arts who worked tirelessly to bring new life to classic works and introduced new work that became classics,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. “He didn’t just make theatre, he created an environment for it to thrive by founding and leading some of the most respected organizations in the industry.”
Added Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre: “Sir Peter Hall’s impact on the arts is immeasurable. As a visionary Artistic Director, and multiple Tony and Olivier Award winner, he changed the theatrical landscape forever…his voice, passion and ideas will be missed by all.”
EARLIER: Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a former Director of the National Theatre, has died. A renowned stage, opera, film and television director — and the father of actress Rebecca Hall — he passed away on Monday surrounded by his family, the National Theatre said. He was 86. The NT will dim its lights this evening in memory of Hall’s life and work.
In 1960, at age 29, Hall founded the RSC, which he led until 1968. The company “realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London,” the NT writes.
Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to a vast, concrete complex on the South Bank of the Thames that would become one of the world’s most vital theater cauldrons. Hall developed long-term professional relationships with the British theater’s luminaries, notably director Peter Brook, playwright Harold Pinter and actor Laurence Olivier. His career also took him to the world’s major opera houses as well as to Broadway. In 1972, he christened Broadway’s newest and largest theater, the Uris (now the Gershwin, home to Wicked) with the rock musical Via Galactica, which turned out to be one of the costliest flops in Broadway history, closing after seven performances. His staging of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was the sensation of the 1980-81 season, winning five Tony Awards including best play and director.
After leaving the NT in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, he was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts. Both the RSC and the National are heavily subsidized.
His career spanned more than 50 years and included staging the English-language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot and the world premiere of Harold Pinter’s Homecoming.
Other world premieres on London during his prolific stage career included Pinter’s No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978); Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979); John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977).
Landmark productions included Hamlet (1965), The Wars Of The Roses (1963), Animal Farm (1984), Antony And Cleopatra (1987, starring Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant Of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). His last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011, pictured at right with his daughter as Viola.
Hall was also a celebrated director of opera, working with the greatest conductors at Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, among other premiere stages. His 1981 production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream became an oft-revived staple of the repertory. At Bayreuth in 1983, he staged Wagner’s Der Ring Des Niebelungen in celebration of the composer’s centenary and ran the Glyndebourne Festival, becoming a Mozart specialist. He frequently collaborated with the American superstar soprano Maria Ewing, who was the third of his four wives.
Hall was diagnosed with dementia in 2011.
His film and TV credits include 1974’s Akenfield and 1989 Screen One installment She’s Been Away for which Peggy Ashcroft and Geraldine James shared the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. He also directed Rebecca in her first onscreen appearance in 1992’s The Camomile Lawn. During the 1970s, Hall hosted arts program Aquarius for London Weekend Television.
Tributes are streaming in for the director, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century the NT calls “unparalleled.”
Rufus Norris, current Director of the National Theatre, said, “We all stand on the shoulders of giants and Peter Hall’s shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it. 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.”
Nicholas Hytner, Director of the NT from 2003-2015, 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. Without him there would have been no Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre’s move to the South Bank might have ended in ignominious failure, and the whole idea of the theatre as a public service dedicated both to high seriousness and popularity would not have seized the public imagination. He was a man of great warmth, and mischievous wit. When I became Director of the National Theatre in 2003, he was unstinting in his support and always generous with his advice. He was the great theatrical buccaneer of the 20th century and has left a permanent mark on our culture.”
Trevor Nunn, Director of the NT 1997–2003 added, “Peter Hall’s achievement defies definition, except that perhaps, it allows us to understand why we have the word ‘great’ in our language. Peter’s greatness lay in his astonishing originality, his charismatic leadership, his unparalleled daring, his profound scholarship, his matchless articulacy and his visionary understanding of what we call ‘the theatre’ could be. In originating the RSC, he created an ensemble which led the world in Shakespeare production, but which triumphed to the same extent in presenting new plays of every kind. Not only a thrilling and penetrating director, he was also the great impresario of the age. He alone had the showmanship and energy to establish the three ring circus of our unique National Theatre on the South Bank. Peter Hall is a legend, whose legacy will benefit many generations to come. And yes, he was my beloved friend for fifty years.”
There will be a private family funeral and details of a memorial service will be announced at a later date.