Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company has died at the age of 86. His legacy will be feted by a great many people from the world of theatre and opera, and he will be remembered by all who work in the arts for his political campaigning for greater recognition of the part that the creative industries play in this country. I will simply remember him as the man who changed my life.
By the time I was twelve I had been going to the theatre for ten years. First to pantomime, then to light comedies staged by the local amateur dramatic companies and then to musicals. My theatre going reflected my parents’ tastes, although the compulsion to substitute theatre tickets for Christmas and birthday presents was all mine. Then, quite by chance, I saw a televised broadcast of a production of As You Like It with Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind, a production staged by this new company which had been founded by the then ‘plain’ Peter Hall. For me everything changed that night. Shakespeare became the mainstay of my life and the group of actors, directors and designers that Hall had gathered round him as familiar to me as my own family. Whenever I could afford it I would walk to the end of the road, ticket money in hand, to climb onto a bus for the hour’s journey to Stratford. If it was being staged, I saw it. I had no idea what a production looked like from the stalls (tickets were £2 a head down there – untold wealth needed for that!) but the back of the gods suited me fine. I had riches of a different sort. The first production I saw live was A Midsummer Nighs Dream with a cast that included Judi Dench, Diana Rigg, Ian Richardson, Ian Holm, Peter Egan and David Warner. Just think about that for a moment.
Hall left the RSC in 1968 and inevitably the company has changed considerably since then. Most especially it doesn’t have that same company ethos which Hall fostered and which Trevor Nun and Terry Hands after him continued to build. Nevertheless, it still produces wonderful examples of Shakespeare’s work and it is still the backbone of my theatre going, just as Shakespeare will always remain the backbone of my artistic experience.
Sir Patrick Stewart, who joined the company under Hall, tweeted:
The man who created The Royal Shakespeare Co, Sir Peter Hall, has died. He transformed classical and modern UK theatre and gave me a career.
And he gave me a life. There are no words to say thank you.