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After the run has finished


Remaining true to the classics
Peter Hall Theatre director
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One has a responsibility as a director, and as an actor, not to mess about with the classics. I mean I don't mind people, as it were, drawing silly bits onto a classic, but they ought to be seen as foolish as they are because Shakespeare is rather good. Shakespeare does rather know better than us. Now, if you translate what we do to Shakespeare to the musical world, I mean it's the equivalent of going into the opera house and people saying: ‘Oh yeah, we don't have the overture to the Marriage of Figaro anymore; I mean it really isn't necessary. We get straight into the action, it's terrific’. I've seen Hamlet with no first scene. I mean who wants all those boring people wandering about on battlements with ghosts I mean, says the director, and cuts it. I mean it is absolutely criminal and critics, in my view, should get up and blow the whistle on people. But they don't know the texts well enough themselves and they regard it as rather with it and cool and… and rather clever to be like that. I don't think it's clever at all; I think it's a… it's a demonstration of arrogant stupidity but there you are. And then, you know, somebody comes along and, and does the full text, people say, my goodness, it isn't as difficult as all that, I can understand it. Well, of course you can understand it if you actually tell the story that Shakespeare told. But if you cut half of it you can't. I suppose that in every Shakespeare play at this moment in time there are half a dozen, perhaps a dozen lines, which have aged so badly that they really are incomprehensible to a modern audience, but there're not more. And people who hide behind the idea that Shakespeare is incomprehensible don't know how to comprehend him and that's… it's just as simple as that, as far as I'm concerned. So, you know, I'm now called an Iambic Fundamentalist by my enemies and I'm regarded as a pedant. But when I started doing this I was regarded as a revolutionary who did nothing about… who knew nothing about Shakespeare and shouldn't be let loose near him. I mean that was… when I went to Stratford and started the RSC, half the media were saying: ‘Look, this man does Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Waiting for Godot, he's a modernist, he knows nothing about Shakespeare. We don't want him. You know, he'll be doing this and doing that and doing the other.' So one… one sees one's reputation going in waves of action and reaction, of being a boring traditionalist and then being a revolutionist and what is the truth? Well, the truth is you do what you do because you believe it's what you should do and that's all really what you can do. You can't be influenced, I think, by media reaction to you. Of course one is depressed by it, of course one doesn't like bad notices. Of course one doesn't like being misunderstood. But there's absolutely nothing you can do to trim your own sails; you have to be what you are, because if you're not what you are, then you really have no possibility of looking yourself in the mirror… I mean. So I've had my ups and downs with the media but I rather… I'm rather excited by the media as a… as an entity because we live in a terribly complex society which is so full of noise and cries and adverts and promotions and this and that, that unless you've got millions of pounds that you can spend on advertising, the only way to point out that you're doing the play is to shout very loudly to the media and hope they'll pick it up. It's a sad fact but true, so we need the media, I think rather more than they need us.

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: Marriage of Figaro, Hamlet, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Waiting for Godot, William Shakespeare

Duration: 3 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008