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The author as part of the directing process


15 years hard labour at the National Theatre
Peter Hall Theatre director
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My ancient passion for running things... because, you know, nobody but a lunatic would actually... want to run an organisation with millions and millions of pounds turnover, which was a hot potato politically which required constant negotiations with Whitehall and, at the same time, dash down to the rehearsal room and direct a play, unless they were slightly deranged. And I have to admit to that; I think I did 15 years hard labour at the National. The first six or seven years were tough because we were getting something established... again with great opposition, apart from the public. The last years were very satisfying and very happy. And it is wonderful, of course, to be able to walk into your office and think I will do Antony and Cleopatra next year and have nobody saying, oh no, you won't, which is the norm of life. But the price you pay for that freedom is really, really hard work. I mean my day at the National was up at quarter to six, read yesterday's papers... business papers I mean... dictate answers to letters, do all the office work and then get into the office at half past nine, go to rehearsal at 10, rehearse until half past four or five and then have meetings and... perhaps go to a performance that evening. I mean that was the norm — day in, day out — and I did that for 15 years and I have to say thrived on it. So I don't think anybody ever dies of hard work, I really don't.

So... I mean I've... as far as running things is concerned, I have two rules: You really must delegate and delegation means trust and delegation means trusting somebody to make mistakes and not to bawl them out for doing it if they did it with well intention. And you can't do a job like that unless you delegate. And the other thing, I think, is to surround yourself artistically with people who you think are better than you. I was enormously blessed when I started the Royal Shakespeare Company that Peter Brook came and joined as a fellow director and that Michel Saint-Denis — the great teacher and wise man of the theatre — joined too and for the first five or six years I had the two of them who were senior to me and better than me and more... kind of dangerous in... Peter certainly, was always looking for new things, new ways. And that was wonderful... and it also enshrined one of the great mysteries of theatre. I've seen brilliant, brilliant directors talk complete rubbish to actors and get wonderful results and I've also seen not very good directors talk brilliant analysis to actors and get nothing. And I don't know what that's about except actually the kind of chemical interplay between two people when they're talking to each other, whether they accept each other or whether they don't. It just makes me glad that no directors that I know go into politics because it's a very dangerous area I think, but interesting. I've seen most of the great directors of my generation at work because I've been their producer, their manager. And everybody's different; everybody speaks differently, everybody works differently and in a way, being a director is part and parcel of celebrating that difference. And I don't think... I wouldn't have lasted 15 years at the National for my own soul if I hadn't been running it as well as directing plays, or if I hadn't been directing plays as well as running it. I mean the two things kind of balance each other, made it all possible. But I used to take my sole holiday at Glyndebourne which was so different and I wasn't responsible for anything except the object that I was rehearsing. And that was... those were very happy years.

British-born theatre director, Sir Peter Hall (1930-2017), ran the Arts Theatre where, in 1955, he directed the English-language premiere of 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett. He also founded the Royal Shakespeare Company when he was only 29, and directed the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988. He was at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon for two season from 1957-1959. He also directed 'Akenfield' for London Weekend Television and ran the Peter Hall Company, which has 40 productions worldwide to its name. In 1963, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and in 1977 was knighted for his contribution to the theatre. In 1999, he was also honoured with a Laurence Olivier Award.

Listeners: John Goodwin

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.

Tags: UK Parliament, National Theatre, Antony and Cleopatra, Royal Shakespeare Company, RSC, Glyndebourne, Peter Brook, Michel Saint-Denis

Duration: 4 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008