Peter Hall, a lion of the British theater who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and won two Tony Awards, has died. He was 86.
The National Theatre in London, which Hall directed for 15 years, said he died Monday surrounded by his family. “We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and Peter Hall’s shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it,” Rufus Norris, the National Theatre’s current director, said. “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.’
Hall twice won a Tony for directing – for “The Homecoming” in 1967 and “Amadeus” in 1981 – and received nominations on seven other occasions. In 1999, he was given an Olivier Award, Britain’s highest theater accolade, for lifetime achievement.
He was as comfortable with plays by William Shakespeare as by Peter Shaffer. In 1955, he directed the London premiere of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” a play that confounded as many viewers as it enchanted. But it was the founding of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, when Hall was just 29, that sealed his reputation in the British theater world and beyond. The company continues to draw large audiences for performances of the Bard’s works in its home base of Stratford-upon-Avon and on tour.
Directors, producers, and actors alike paid tribute to Hall on Tuesday. Patrick Stewart credited Hall with transforming the British stage and also giving him a career.
Others who worked with Hall include Judi Dench, whom he directed in “Antony and Cleopatra” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Anthony Hopkins, in “Antony and Cleopatra”; and Dustin Hoffman, in “The Merchant of Venice.”
“He was very mischievous, very handsome, an extremely attractive man who everyone fell in love with,” Vanessa Redgrave told BBC radio. “He was everything really, a kind of Shelley in the theater.”
Hall also directed opera, and was an outspoken advocate of government funding for the arts. The National Theatre said it would dim its lights on London’s South Bank on Tuesday evening in his honor.
Hall was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. He is survived by his fourth wife, Nicki; six children, including the actress Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”); and nine grandchildren.