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5 Shows That Sealed Peter Hall’s Stage Legacy

Walter Kerr, reviewing the Broadway production in The New York Times in 1967, wrote that Mr. Hall had directed the cast “to make sleepwalking and strangled speech constitute a theatrical effect in and for itself,” adding “we are not engrossed by the eternal hesitation-waltz, but seriously put off by it.” (Among those onstage: Pinter’s wife at the time, Vivien Merchant.)

As with Beckett, Mr. Hall was sensitive to every word — and, equally important, pause — in the script, and according to Pinter’s biographer Michael Billington, “once held a dot-and-pause rehearsal to mark the precise musical notations in Pinter’s text.”


Paul Scofield as Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus.”

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Amadeus (1979)

Peter Shaffer’s haunted portrait of the rivalry between a musical genius (Mozart) and a genius manqué (Salieri) allowed Mr. Hall, now the head of the Royal National Theater, to display his showman’s instinct for large, well-populated canvases, rococo flourishes and ripe acting that stopped just short of melodrama.

He guided two sets of illustrious actors to benchmark performances in the leading adversarial roles: Paul Scofield (as Salieri) and Simon Callow (as Mozart) in London, and Ian McKellen (who won a Tony for his Salieri) and Tim Curry (a raging enfant terrible as young Wolfgang) on Broadway in 1980.


Vanessa Redgrave, the star of “Orpheus Descending,” was accompanied by Carlo Nero for the production’s Broadway opening night.

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Orpheus Descending (1988)

From the early days of his career, Mr. Hall had shown a particular affinity for the works of Tennessee Williams (in productions of “Camino Real” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in the later 1950s). For the debut of his new independent commercial venture, the Peter Hall Company, he chose a florid drama that had never received much love from critics.

But his “Orpheus,” seen on Broadway in 1989, did much for the play, and its author’s, reputation at a time when Williams was out of fashion. His leading lady, Vanessa Redgrave (struggling with an indeterminate accent), was brave, pathetic and finally transcendent in the role of Lady, the love-starved Italian wife of a Southern bigot.

Ms. Redgrave saw her performance as a study in the social persecution of Sicilian immigrants. For many of her fans, her Lady confirmed Mr. Hall’s verdict on the actress after watching her in Ibsen’s “The Lady From the Sea,” of which he wrote in his diary: “You could see right through the skin to the emotions, the thoughts, the hopes, the fears underneath.”


From left, Rebecca Hall as Rosalind, and Rebecca Callard, as Celia, in “As You Like It.”

Keith Bedford for The New York Times

As You Like It (2003)

This was, surprisingly, Mr. Hall’s first interpretation of one of the canon’s most beloved comedies. Now in his mid-70s, he brought a touch of frost to Shakespeare’s sylvan Forest of Arden, summoning the hard-times atmosphere of the Great Depression. For the play’s cross-dressing heroine, Rosalind, he chose his daughter, Rebecca Hall, whom he had triumphantly introduced to the West End with his 2002 production of Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.”

His “As You Like It” proved to be the perfect firmament for his daughter’s rising star. Reviewing the production when it came to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2005, the Times critic Ben Brantley wrote of the Halls’ synchronicity, “There’s a dialectic of youth and age at work here that brings a fresh dialogue of light and shadow to the play.”

Mr. Hall, he added, had infused a bright classic with “the measured, autumnal awareness of someone who has long experience of the reversals of fortune.”

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