Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Peter Hall

Legendary theater and opera director -- via the New York Times. One of the most important figures in 20th century theater, for more than 50 years. He directed the first English-language production of Waiting for Godot in 1955. and founded the Royal Shakespeare Company. He directed scores of key productions, including eight Pinter premieres, the Olivier Coriolanus, the Warner Hamlet, and Amadeus. Working with John Barton, he crafted the epic War of the Roses, an amalgam of Henry VI I, II, & III and Richard III that revolutionized thinking about how to stage the Bard (and my personal favorite next to Brook's Lear). His 1981 Oresteia led to a re-evaluation of and revival of interest in ancient Greek tragedy He led Britain's National Theatre for 15 years.

His reign was not without controversy. You loved him or you hated him. I met him once when he brought his and Barton's Tantalus to Denver in 2000 -- he was irredeemably confident and smooth. (The epic production, though quite memorable, didn't hang together nor make a spalsh; it vanished, leaving not a rack behind).I met John Barton as well -- he was sitting in the Denver Center's enormous foyer one afternoon, juggling revisions one day during the run. He was surprised that anyone in America, much less Joe Blow from Kokomo, recognized him on sight. It was a pleasure to thank him, not least for his evident capability of retaining all of Shakespeare -- ALL -- on the tip of hi tongue. He was polite, but seemingly miserable and distant. Later, I found out that the problems of the immense Tantalus production destroyed their decades-long relationship. (Michael Blakemore's eye-opening but hard-to-find Stage Blood is a memoir that slowly and carefully obliterates Hall.)

As with all other lives, history's judgment will reside with the work he did, and that includes many revelatory theatrical experiences. Pretty much everything he did impacted me as a performer and as a writer. That insistence on getting to the meat of things, to work with what's on the page, to be direct and unadorned, is I think was great restorer of health to mainstream theater. Above all, it kept the classics alive for us -- they were so unexciting for centuries, something musty and fusty that we all had to learn because they were "great." Hall injected life back into them, no small feat. He allowed actors to be great onstage, if that makes sense. Neither did he neglect new work and controversy, creating a continuum that we would we well-advised to add to.

Above all, he entertained us, which I believe is the point.