Belfast Telegraph

Vanessa Redgrave pays tribute to ‘fascinating director’ Sir Peter Hall

He was appointed the National’s director in 1973, a year after joining Lord Laurence Olivier as co-director.

Vanessa Redgrave has led tributes to Sir Peter Hall, the former director of the National Theatre and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who has died aged 86.

The theatre great died on Monday, in a London hospital surrounded by his family.

Actress Redgrave worked with Sir Peter in Stratford, on Broadway, and later, with her daughter Joely Richardson, with the Peter Hall Company.

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She said in a statement to the Press Association: “I send his family lots of love.

“He was a fascinating director. I remember his production in 1959 of Midsummer Night’s Dream with Charles Laughton as Bottom and Ian Holm as Puck and Albert Finney as Lysander, and in the same Stratford season of 1959 Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier.

“I was in both productions and I watched all the rehearsals. In 1989 he directed me on Broadway in Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, and in 2004 my daughter Joely Richardson and I both played in his Peter Hall Company production of Lady Windermere’s Fan. I count myself very lucky to have worked with him.”

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Sir Peter, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1960, aged just 30, and stayed there until 1968.

He was appointed the National’s director in 1973, a year after joining Lord Laurence Olivier as co-director.

Under his leadership, the theatre moved from the Old Vic to the South Bank, and Sir Peter remained with the National until 1988.

The National Theatre’s current director, Rufus Norris, 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.”

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Royal Shakespeare Company included a quote from Julius Caesar and said it was “greatly saddened by the news”.

Its artistic director, Gregory Doran, remembered Sir Peter as a “colossus and 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,” he said.

Sir Peter created the RSC to realise his vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers, producing modern and classic texts.

The company played in Stratford and also expanded into the Aldwych Theatre, as its first London home.

Playwright Sir David Hare, actors Sir Patrick Stewart, Laurence Fox and Toby Stephens also paid tribute.

Sir David said in a statement: “Peter Hall was not only the principal architect of post-war theatre, he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and moved the National Theatre on to the South Bank, but above all he was the person who insisted that new plays belonged in the classical repertory, on the same stages and given the same status.

“It was his idea to play (Harold) Pinter alongside Shakespeare.

“Every living playwright owes him a debt.”

Sir Patrick said that the director “transformed classical and modern UK theatre and gave me a career”.

Actor Stephens said: “So sad to hear of the death of Sir Peter Hall. He gave me my first break as an actor. A great director and shaper of British Theatre.”

Fox wrote: “He gave me my first theatre job, and boy did he whip you into shape… Rest in peace Sir Peter.”

Sir Peter had an international reputation as the foremost authority on Shakespearean directing and became known for being outspoken about government and Arts Council funding for the theatre.

His most well-known theatre productions included the world premiere of Pinter’s The Homecoming in 1965 and the nine-hour production of John Barton’s Greek tale Tantalus.

He worked alongside Dame Judi Dench and Sir Anthony Hopkins in 1987’s production of Antony And Cleopatra and again alongside Dame Judi in 2010’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In 1989 he worked with Dustin Hoffman on The Merchant Of Venice and in 2003 he collaborated with his daughter, the actress Rebecca Hall, on As You Like It.

His last production with the National was 2011’s Twelfth Night.

Sir Peter was also responsible for some 20 productions during his time as artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera from 1984-1990.

The director, who founded the Peter Hall Company, was married four times.

Sir Peter is survived by his widow, Nicki Frei, and children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca, Emma and nine grandchildren.

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