The College was extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Sir Peter Hall, who died on September 11th at the age of 86.
Sir Peter read English at St Catharine’s, matriculating in 1950. Recalling his time at the College, he said “[I was] lucky enough to have rooms in the roof of the central court of St Catharine’s, looking out towards King’s Parade. My attic in the roof of that lovely quadrangle had been largely uninhabited. The college had little connection with the drama.”
Sir Peter was radically to transform the truth of that final sentence. After a full career directing in the University, he began his professional life as a director with a production of Twelfth Night, performed at the Oxford Playhouse, in 1954. A year later, he directed the English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot, a play that had been declined by several other directors. Writing about the production in 2005, Sir Peter said “I still wake up wondering what would have become of my life if I had turned it down. It changed everything.”
After three seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (where his productions included Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft, Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier, and A Midsummer Night's Dream with Charles Laughton), he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, and served as its artistic director until 1968. In 1965, against the advice of colleagues, he staged the world premiere of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.
Sir Peter was director of the National Theatre between 1973 and 1988 and – against substantial opposition – pushed through Lasdun’s controversial South Bank building, after which he continued to direct Shakespeare, including an off-Broadway production of Troilus and Cressida featuring a young Idris Elba. In his last year of directing before retirement in 2011, he directed Twelfth Night at the National, with his daughter Rebecca as Viola. His impact on British theatrical and cultural life, as both practitioner and passionate advocate, has been unparalleled.
Sir Peter visited the College several times over the years. He was elected to an Honorary Fellowship in 1964, spoke to the Shirley Society more than once, gave the first Tom Henn Memorial Lecture, and in 2003 received an Honorary Degree from the University.
Honorary Fellow Sir Jonathan Bate said of Sir Peter, “An inspiration to me, as to so many. Proud that he and I and Sir Ian McKellen flew the flag for Shakespeare among St Catharine’s Honorary Fellows.”
The College flag has been flying at half-mast in Sir Peter’s memory. He will be sorely missed by the entire St Catharine’s community.