Sir Peter Hall in 2004. PHOTO/RSC
Founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former National Theatre director Sir Peter Hall has died at the age of 86.
He died on Monday at University College hospital in London, surrounded by his family, the National Theatre said.
During his career he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the world premiere of Harold Pinter’s Homecoming.
Sir Peter had been diagnosed with dementia in 2011.
There will be a private family funeral, with details of a memorial service to be announced at a later date.
The RSC perform Shakespeare’s plays, as well as works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and plays by today’s writers.
William Shakespeare, also known as the “Bard of Avon,” is often called England’s national poet and considered the greatest dramatist of all time. Shakespeare’s works are known throughout the world, but his personal life is shrouded in mystery.
Very little is known for certain about William Shakespeare. What is known about his life comes from registrar records, court records, wills, marriage certificates and his tombstone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Sir Peter with his wife Nicki and daughter Rebecca at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards. PHOTO/PA
Peter Hall made his debut at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1956 with Love’s Labours Lost: his productions in the 1957-1959 seasons included Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft, Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Charles Laughton.
In 1960, aged 29, Hall was appointed as Artistic Director, and created the Royal Shakespeare Company to realise his vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both modern and classic texts, with a distinctive house style.
The company not only played in Stratford but expanded into the Aldwych Theatre, as a 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. This was described at the time as “the greatest Shakespearian event in living memory which also laid down the doctrine of Shakespearian relevance to the modern world.”
Peter handed the company on to Trevor Nunn in 1968, and took over the National Theatre in 1973 which he ran for 15 years until 1988.
Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Gregory Doran said of his predecessor: “Sir Peter Hall was a Colossus, bestriding the British Theatre. He was a visionary.
“Not only was he a great director of theatre and opera, he was a politician who fought for the Arts. It is impossible to single out his greatest production. But his greatest legacy without doubt will be judged to be the formation of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961”.
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves
Julius Caesar (Act One Scene Two)
Shakespeare before Sir Thomas Lucy in the hall of Charlecote. Oil on canvas by Thomas Brooks, 1857. PHOTO/RSC
After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston.
Throughout his career, Sir Peter was also a champion of public funding for the arts.
His other works included the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977) and the 1987 production of Antony and Cleopatra, starring Dame Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins.
He also directed his daughter, the actress Rebecca Hall, in a 2003 production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Sir Peter’s last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011.
He was also a renowned opera director and was the artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera between 1994 and 1990).
In 1983, he staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle to honour the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.
Sir Peter is survived by his wife, Nicki, children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca and Emma and nine grandchildren.
His former wives, Leslie Caron, Jacqueline Taylor and Maria Ewing also survive him.
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