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Sir Peter Hall, giant of British Theatre, dies aged 86

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Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and director of the National Theatre, has died aged 86.

Hall directed ground-breaking theatre performances and has sometimes been dubbed the ‘godfather of British theatre’. He founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961 and directed the National Theatre for five years. He was a vociferous supporter of public arts funding, and also directed opera, film and TV as well as authoring several books.

As a director, Hall gave the world the first ever English-language performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in 1955. He also directed the world premiere of The Homecoming in 1965 and No Man’s Land ten years later, both by Harold Pinter, as well as Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus in 1979 and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce in 1977. Actors that came under his skilled direction included Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Judi Dench, Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave.

At just 30 years old, Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961, which he then led until 1968. In 1973 Hall was appointed director of the National Theatre. He oversaw the move from the Old Vic to the South Bank, managing to overcome widespread criticism to make a success of the change.

After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, Hall founded the Peter Hall Company. In 2003 he became the founding director of the Rose Theatre, in Kingston. It was here in 2010 that Hall directed Judi Dench as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Peter Hall with Michael Bryant (image: National Theatre)

His published books include The Necessary Theatre (1999), Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players (2003), and Making an Exhibition of Myself, an autobiography published in 1993.

In 1963 Hall was awarded the CBE, and in 1977 he was given a knighthood for services to the theatre. He won two Tony awards (for Amadeus and The Homecoming), and received seven more nominations, as well as four awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. In 2005 he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Hall was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. He died on September 11th 2017 at University College Hospital, surrounded by his family. 

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