Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Tributes to Peter Hall from Richard Eyre & Simon Callow

In Memory

Peter Hall , Theatre in England and Wales , September 24, 2017
In Memory by Peter Hall Peter Hall does not feature widely on this site. By an alchemy of timing the last review of a production of his has the date of ten years ago to the day, 24th September 2007. “Pygmalion” from the autumn of his vast career had premiered at the Theatre Royal, Bath and spent a week at the New Theatre. “Like that city” reads the review, “Peter Hall’s production is opulent and elegant.” Tim Pigott-Smith played Higgins as a boy who had never attained emotional adulthood. A young Michelle Dockery faced him as Eliza. The design impressed: “towering panelled rooms and richly embellished Edwardian interiors.”

Some years on the National Theatre was in celebratory mood and Michael Blakemore was on hand to spike the party. His book “Stage Blood”, reviewed here January 8th 2014, was a study in artistic prowess and power. Blakemore homed in on the lifestyle that required the art to finance it. The mansions, the Barbican flat, the flights on Concorde, the string of divorces. Running the South Bank goliath is an executive position but the regular absences were as long as five months. The public-private role is muddied. Blakemore's examples pile up. The division of the spoils of “Amadeus” in New York is an example. Hall, in Blakemore's telling, gets four or five percent of the gross and five percent of the profits. The National Theatre receives nothing. “Can I have my cake and eat it?” runs an entry in the “Diaries..” “I think I must.”

Which is not to diminish in the slightest the accomplishment. Hall's career had a depth and a breadth which, due to its time in theatre history, will never be replicated. But he illustrates a simple truth of humans, that greatness need not be goodness.

The instant obituaries were good but an interval of time, even a week or so, always guarantees something better. And predictably there is gold beyond the freesheet that is the Internet. Simon Callow: “charming, lucid, twinkly and full of common sense...He was an urbane, elegant, compelling speaker...His coaching was wonderful.” But “Peter Hall and I were not close friends. I'm not sure Peter did close friends. His immense and loving extended family satisfied that need.” A similar theme comes from Richard Eyre “he wasn't at all clubbable nor was he gregarious.” But Eyre was also characteristic. His life in theatre was set at the age of nineteen. The impulse was the Royal Shakespeare Company, Brook doing “King Lear” and Hall “the Wars of the Roses” which went into “the world of contemporary power politics.”

Richard Eyre describes the Hall and Barton collaboration: “He also brought an emphasis on the construction of the verse and its speaking, and an insistence that character could be grasped from within the text, not from specious speculation and received opinion.” Humans do not come packaged in a carapace of virtue. Back to Simon Callow: “formidable without being in the least forbidding; shrewd- cunning even- in the pursuit of his goals; a sensualist and a lover; human, all too human. A fighter. Above all a leader.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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