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Great Expectations kept me out of the washing up


I want to be a director!
Peter Hall Theatre director
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As I got older, and as the war ended and I was 15, 16, 17, one of the advantages of being the son of an impoverished railway worker was that you got a certain number of free tickets for the railway and then reduced-price tickets. So I used to travel to London quite a lot. Extraordinary to think, actually, that, I mean, I… I know I came to London by myself, aged 14, with the war still on, to go to the theatre. I had an aunt in Lewisham who provided a bed, and I used to go on the tram from Westminster to Lewisham and stay the night there. And in London I saw Gielgud's seasons at the Haymarket, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Duchess of Malfi, Peggy Ashcroft, Hamlet again at the New Theatre as it then was, subsequently became the Albery Theatre and has now become, I think, the Coward Theatre – keeps on changing its name. I saw the Olivier/Richardson great seasons. I saw Richardson play Falstaff in both parts, I saw Olivier's Richard III, I saw Arms and the Man, I saw Peer Gynt. I mean, by this time I was absolutely hooked. I wanted to not be an actor. I wanted to be a director. I don't know, I certainly didn't know what a director was at that point except I… I knew that somebody made it happen. Somebody was in charge of it in some sense, and that's what I wanted to be. So I read my Stanislavsky and I read my Gordon Craig and I tried to understand what a director was. A director then, of course, was somewhat young in the… in fashion, anyway. Directors tend to be called producers – 'the play produced by Mr so and so' it would say on the programme where, you know, now it's the director. We've taken on the film parlance. The producer's the man who raises the money, the director's the man who does the work of actually putting the… the show together.

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: WWII, London, Westminster, Lewisham, Haymarket Theatre, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Duchess of Malfi, Hamlet, Albery Theatre, Noel Coward Theatre, Richard III, Arms and the Man, Peer Gynt, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Edward Gordon Craig

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008