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My obsession with theatre

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What do you do with a casting mistake?
Peter Hall Theatre director
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One does make mistakes. I mean I've made, I suppose, 10 or a dozen in my 50 years which isn't perhaps too many. I think that it's my responsibility if I've chosen somebody, to stick with them as much and as long as I can, but sometimes you get a situation where you made a mistake and... There's nothing you can do about it. Nothing you can do about it. Except keep their spirits up. Keep their spirits up or replace them. Ah. And that's... that's not happy, for anybody. No. But I remember when I was running the National Theatre, almost inevitably on the Friday when a play had been in rehearsal for a week, somebody else directing it, there would be a knock on my door late Friday afternoon and the director would come in and he'd say: ‘Look, and I know I wanted him but I'm afraid it's impossible... impossible’. So you have to get rid of them. Yes, exactly. And I would say, ‘Listen, you picked him and, you know, we all agreed that you were right to pick him because you wanted him. You've got to try and make it work. If in the last week’... He said: ‘What?’. I said: ‘Yes, in the last week, if you can show me the play working and it isn't working because of him, then we might do something about it, but not until you've had a real go at making it happen’. And I always kept to that.... which... most of them, it... it died. Really... I mean most of them didn't... the worry disappeared... yeah. Yes. But it's... I mean it is 70% casting, but that's not a really accurate remark because it's impossible to make a play work if you've miscast it badly. And yet an ensemble works so well. Yes, but an ensemble... an ensemble casts according to talent and it's... and miscasting is... I mean... I don't mean miscasting in the sense of not the right type. I think a lot of very interesting stuff in the theatre comes out of casting people who are not the right type, who are stretched into areas which they didn't know they possessed. And that usually works — dangerous though it may be — but it's the person who just isn't up to it in basic talent or technique that we're talking about. And that... and that's the gamble. It's...It’s... I mean it's a cruel business in the sense that if a mistake — a primary mistake — has been made, you owe it surely to the author, the other actors, the theatre and the audience not to allow it to go on.

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.

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: National Theatre

Duration: 3 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008