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Peter Hall (theatre director)

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Peter Hall (theatre director)

Sir Peter Hall
Detail from a portrait of Sir Peter Hall by his daughter Jennifer Caron Hall.
Born Peter Reginald Frederick Hall
(1930-11-22) 22 November 1930 (age 83)
Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk, England
Occupation Director
Years active 1953–present
  • Nikki Frei
    (1990–present; 1 child)
  • Maria Ewing
    (1982–1990; daughter Rebecca born 1982)
  • Jacqueline Taylor
    (1965–1981; two children, including Edward born 1966)
  • Leslie Caron
    (1956–1965; son Christopher born 1957 and daughter Jennifer born 1958)

Sir Peter Reginald Frederick Hall, CBE (born 22 November 1930) is an English theatre and film director. Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (1960–68) and directed the National Theatre (1973–88). He has also been prominent in defending public subsidy of the arts in Britain.

Early years

Hall was born at Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk, England, the son of Grace Florence (née Pamment) and Reginald Edward Arthur Hall, a stationmaster.[1][2][3] Hall attended The Perse School in Cambridge after securing a scholarship to read English at university there, but first had to fulfil a brief National Service where he was posted to the RAF Headquarters for Education in Bückerberg, Germany. He produced and acted in several productions while at the University of Cambridge, was on the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club Committee 1952-3,[4] and graduated in 1953 from St Catharine's College. During the same year, he staged his first professional play at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.


From 1954 to 1955 he was at the Oxford Playhouse where he directed several notable young actors such as Ronnie Barker and Roderick Cook and the stage play of Gigi starring French dancer and film actress Leslie Caron. In August 1955, he directed the English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett at the Arts Theatre, London. From 1956–1959 he ran the Arts Theatre and directed several plays including the English-language premiere of The Waltz of the Toreadors by the French dramatist Jean Anouilh.[5] He was at Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon for the 1957 to 1959 seasons.[5] There, his productions included: Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft; Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier and Edith Evans; and A Midsummer Night's Dream with Charles Laughton.

Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, at the age of 29. He served as its artistic director from that time until 1968. He was director of the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988 and was also a member of the Arts Council of Great Britain resigning from the latter role in protest over cuts in public funding. During his time as director of the National Theatre, he directed a theatrical version of George Orwell's allegorical novella, Animal Farm, with music and lyrics. Coincidentally, it was first staged on 25 April 1984, (1984 being the year in which another one of Orwell's novels, Nineteen Eighty Four, took place). It toured nine cities in 1985. After leaving the National Theatre Hall founded his own company directing a series of productions at the Old Vic.

From 1970 onwards, he directed a number of operas for Glyndebourne Festival Opera, including Francesco Cavalli's L'Ormindo, Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Albert Herring, and the Mozart/Da Ponte operas The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte. He also directed operas at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, before taking up the directorship of the National Theatre. In 1983 he presented a new production of Wagner's Ring Cycle at Bayreuth, with Sir Georg Solti conducting. This production was in honour of the 100th anniversary of Wagner's death.

In 1988 he opened a production of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending in London. He later presented the production, starring Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway in 1989. A year later, he directed the a TV film adaptation of the play, Orpheus Descending.

In 1990, at the Chichester Festival Theatre he directed Born Again, a musical version of Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros. Hall wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the libretto with Julian Barry, and British composer Jason Carr in Carr's first professional musical. Many years later one of the show's song's "When I Was Out This Morning" (with lyrics by Hall) was included on Carr's composer compilation album.

Sir Peter Hall is Director Emeritus of the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames which opened in January 2008, and which draws design inspiration from the original Rose theatre. In 2010 the Rose had a sellout run of his production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with Judi Dench playing Titania. Ben Mansfield playing Demetrius.

Personal life

Hall was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1963 and in 1977 was knighted for his services to the theatre. In 1999, he was presented with a Laurence Olivier Award. He was appointed Chancellor of Kingston University in 2000. He was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath in 2006.

Hall has married four times. His first wife was French actress Leslie Caron, followed by Jacqueline Taylor, opera soprano Maria Ewing, and present wife Nicki Frei. One of his children is the actress Rebecca Hall, another is the director Edward Hall, and a further son is the producer Christopher Hall. Hall has worked with every one of his six children at one time or another, directing three actress daughters, another daughter Lucy Hall designed one of his three productions of Hamlet starring Stephen Dillane, Christopher Hall produced the television drama The Final Passage and Edward Hall was co-director with his father on the stage epic Tantalus. One of his sons-in-law Glenn Wilhide was also the producer of The Camomile Lawn which Hall directed for television in 1992.

Stage productions

Film and television

Hall has also filmed many of his stage productions and operas for television


  • Peter Hall's Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle (1983) Harper & Row
  • Making An Exhibition of Myself (1993) Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd ISBN 978-1856191654 – Autobiography
  • Shakespeare's Advice To The Players (2003) Theatre Communications Group ISBN 978-1559362344


Peter Hall began acting as a student at Cambridge university, where Dadie Rylands taught him to speak Shakespearean verse. He was also influenced in his understanding of Shakespeare by the literary critic and teacher F. R. Leavis. He subsequently acted in three German films, directed by Maximilian Schell 1973–1975: Der Fußgänger (The Pedestrian) (1973), Als Mutter streikte (When Mother Went on Strike) (1974) and Der letzte Schrei (The Last Word) (1975).[6]

Further reading

  • Simon Trowbridge (2010). The Company: A Biographical Dictionary of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Oxford: Editions Albert Creed. ISBN 978-0-9559830-2-3


External links

  • The Company: A Biographical Dictionary of the RSC: Online database
  • Internet Broadway Database
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Web of Stories
  • Fathom biography
  • Godot almighty by Peter Hall

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