Sir Peter Hall: Theatre giant dies aged 86

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Sir Peter HallImage source, Rex/Shutterstock
Image caption,
Sir Peter Hall staged premieres of Waiting for Godot and Homecoming

Sir Peter Hall, the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former National Theatre director, 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.

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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 led the company until 1968.

Tributes have been paid to Sir Peter by many in the theatre world.

Speaking to Radio 4's World at One, actress Vanessa Redgrave described Sir Peter as "a very extraordinary, interesting and fascinating director".

"He was very mischievous, very handsome, an extremely attractive man who everyone fell in love with... he was everything really, a kind of Shelley in the theatre."

Actor Sir Michael Gambon said Sir Peter "never stopped working".

Several stars have credited Sir Peter with helping launch their careers, Sir Patrick Stewart being among them.

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Toby Stephens paid tribute, saying Sir Peter gave him his first break as an actor.

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Labour peer and broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell also tweeted, sharing her "golden memories" of the director.

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Playwright Sir David Hare also praised Sir Peter for his legacy.

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"He was fearless about giving young people their head," says playwright David Hare

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."

Analysis by BBC arts editor Will Gompertz

Sir Peter Hall was, in many ways, the single most influential figure in British theatre in the second half of the 20th Century.

Not just because he was the man who launched Beckett in Britain, or founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, or transformed the National Theatre from a niche affair operating out of the Old Vic into a three-stage, globally respected, highly ambitious production house - all of which were great achievements.

But what really made him special was what he did for others - the way in which he helped playwrights, actors and fellow directors flourish.

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 [Richard] Burbage.

"He was the great theatrical buccaneer of the 20th Century and has left a permanent mark on our culture."

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Sir Peter's career spanned more than half a century

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".

Greg Doran, director of the RSC, 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... his greatest legacy without doubt will be judged to be the formation of the Royal Shakespeare Company."

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Image caption,
Dame Judi Dench worked with Sir Peter Hall many times

After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, Sir Peter 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.

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Sir Peter directed his daughter Rebecca Hall in Twelfth Night

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 1984 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.

There will be a private family funeral, with details of a memorial service to be announced at a later date.

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