Sir Peter Hall (1930-2017)

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I won’t hypocritically pretend that Sir Peter Hall was a friend or indeed someone I knew very much about.  I might have been to one of his productions over the years, but for most of the time it’s not been the sort of thing I took careful note of – let’s face it, I was probably under 10 when I saw my first Shakespeare.  It would be churlish, though, on a blog like this not to mark his passing.  He’s one of those people whose life influences yours at one remove …

So.  Founder of the RSC.  Director of the National Theatre.  An impressive CV for anyone. And, what seems to have been an almost-Falstaffian personality, barely contained by his frame.  Not universally liked ( a bit like me: one of my nicknames at work is Captain Marmite), but pretty much respected across his field.

One of the joys of Shakespeare is the infinite malleability of his plays.  I’ll never forget the ‘Mean Girls‘ version of a scene from Romeo & Juliet that some of my pupils performed for me in my first year as a teacher.  My preference, though, is for the kind of performance that Hall favoured, and it’s people like him that have kept that style of Shakespeare alive in the face of revisionist agendas and the increasing fashion for ‘new’ and the obsolescence of anything ‘old’:

Hall’s legacy as a director is less concrete than the buildings. The approach to Shakespeare that he ultimately favoured – full texts staged in period costume and spoken with a metronomic attention to the iambic pentameter of the verse – has been overtaken in recent years by a fashion for shorter, more demotic and time-shifted productions.(1)

There IS a place for bells, whistles and general trendiness, but I’m not sure it should be at the RSC, or indeed The Globe.  One of the things I like (and this is why I hardly go to the cinema) is to be given the opportunity to make my own connections between the action on stage and the world around me.  I don’t – need or want, actually – someone to point out how and why this line or play is ‘relatable’.  The process of making these connections, of doing the thinking for myself, is part of the pleasure.  I also enjoy the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of period productions.  Part of the experience for me is an escape from the real world, however temporary.  Perhaps that’s why when I tend to ‘play away’ from Shakespeare, it’s almost always in my Science Fiction shelves …

One of the things I believe we should always respect is enthusiasm.  He seemed to have truckloads of it.  When I read things like the next quotation, I wish I’d had the opportunity to sit down and chat Shakespeare with him over a couple of bottles of red:

“I think he wrote two plays with an absolute, arrogant indifference to the public or whether the public liked them or understood them. And one is Troilus and the other is Hamlet . I mean, Hamlet lasts four hours 15 minutes. And he didn’t care a fuck. ‘Really,’ he said, ‘this is what I want to write.’”(2)

Rest in peace.  Thanks for whatever ‘arms-length’ part you played in my love of Shakespeare on stage as well as on the page …


1:  The Guardian, 12 September 2017

2:  The Observer, 04 February, 2001

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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