Sir Peter Hall's (b. 1930) life has seen him running Arts Theatre, founding the Royal Shakespeare Company when he was only 29, and directing the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988. In 1955, he directed the English-language premiere of 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett at the Arts Theatre, London. He was at Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon for the 1957 to 1959 seasons. He also directed Akenfield for London Weekend Television and runs the Peter Hall Company, which has 40 productions worldwide to its name. Hall was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1963 and in 1977 was knighted for his contribution to the theatre. In 1999, he was also honoured with a Laurence Olivier Award.
Perhaps I ought to analyse a little bit more what... being a director entails because I don't think people understand really what a director is; they think of him as some sort of autocrat — which he's not. And I think the first thing to be said is that doing a play, or an opera for that matter, is very much... is very different if you're doing a modern piece in which the author is available and comes to work with you, or whether you're doing a classic of the past where you have to find out so much about the context in which the work was originally given. Well if you're dealing with Samuel Beckett or Tennessee Williams or Harold Pinter or Peter Schaffer or Simon Gray... or, you know, these are just people I've worked with and have been blessed with... Michael Tippett in opera...then you have an absolute interplay. You can say, 'what do you mean here' and mostly the Samuel Becketts and the Harold Pinters of this world say I don't know what I meant, what does it say. And they make you look and see what it says. So you actually try and figure out what they meant. And that, of course, is quite a creative act in itself, which is much better than the author just telling you, this is what it meant. Sometimes authors are very bad directors of their own work because the actor asks what it means and they're told categorically what they means and they then act a category, just something very simplistic, so it lacks ambiguity. So it's... it's very, very different. I love working on a modern piece with the author; the only thing I do absolutely say is that if you're going to come as an author to rehearsal you should be there most of the time. You shouldn't come on special days when the author is present, which paralyses everybody. In other words, he should be part of the process and he should be able to say anything he wants about what the director's doing and the director should be able to say anything he wants about the text. That's how I've done... I don't know, 10 or 11 plays of Harold Pinter's and I think it sometimes slightly unnerves the actors when they see two people arguing like we do but our argument is so... is very well intentioned and very amiable. It's not destructive and it's not egotistical. So it works and it's very creative. If you're doing a historical piece, an old piece, a Shakespeare piece, one of the first things you have to do is to try and immerse yourself in the period of the piece itself, socially and historically, and try to understand why he wrote that as he wrote that at the moment that he wrote that for the audience he was writing for. All these are great imponderables and it's a lot of scholarly work, a lot of scholarly reading, which you don't bring into the rehearsal room with you because actors are not really very interested in scholarship; they want something visceral they can get hold of. But you can create an atmosphere, I think, where you... you know, the actors really respond to their duty which I think is not to say... had Shakespeare been writing now he would have done it like this, but to say Shakespeare wrote it wanting it to mean something like this and this is what we're trying to convey to you. That's very difficult to define and, you know, you can argue over it very, very much and very often.
Title: The author as part of the directing process
Head of Press at the National Theatre (1974-1988), and earlier at the RSC (1960-1974), John Goodwin is the author of a best-selling paperback, A short Guide to Shakespeare's Plays, and co-author of Trader Faulkner's one-man show, Losing My Marbles. He is also editor of the play, Sappho, based on Alphonse Daudet's novel, and editor of a number of successful books, among them, Peter Hall's Diaries, and, British Theatre Design - the modern age.
Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, Peter Schaffer, Simon Gray, Michael Tippett, William Shakespeare