Sir Peter Hall: Theatre giant dies aged 86

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Sir Peter HallImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Peter’s career spanned more than half a century

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.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Peter with his wife Nicki and daughter Rebecca at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Sir Peter became director of the National in 1973 and was responsible for the theatre’s move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank.

He founded the RSC at the age of just 29 in 1960 and then led the company until 1968.

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.”

‘Godfather of British theatre’

Other former National Theatre directors lined up to pay tribute.

Sir Nicholas Hytner 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.

“He was the great theatrical buccaneer of the 20th century and has left a permanent mark on our culture,” he added.

Sir Trevor Nunn described Sir Peter as “not only a thrilling and penetrating director, he was also the great impresario of the age”.

And Sir Richard Eyre said Sir Peter “was – and is – the godfather (in both senses) of British theatre”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Dame Judi Dench worked with Sir Peter Hall many times

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.

‘Golden era’

He was also a renowned opera director and was the artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera between 1994 and 1990).

Gus Christie, Glyndebourne’s executive chairman, said in a statement: “It was a golden era for Glyndebourne when Peter was artistic director. He was loved by both audiences and artists. The productions he created were timeless.”

In 1983, Sir Peter staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Bayreuth, Germany, 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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