LONDON – Tributes poured in Wednesday for Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former director of the United Kingdom’s National Theater, as it dawned on many exactly how important he had been to the arts.
Throughout his 86 years of life, Hall introduced legends such as playwrights Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, as well as actors Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins to audiences while building up the UK’s theater into the internationally-acknowledged powerhouse it is today.
“Peter Hall was a Colossus, bestriding the British Theatre. He was a visionary,” said RSC artistic director Gregory Doran, adding that “his greatest legacy without doubt will be judged to be the formation of the RSC in 1961.”
At the age of 29, Hall was appointed to direct the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford-Upon-Aven, where a six-month festival dedicated to the playwright was held annually.
But Hall thought the operation should be larger than life and in 1961 formally announced that the Memorial Theater would now be known as the Royal Shakespeare Theater, thus founding the RSC, which would have its own style and also a base in London.
Since then, the RSC has become one of the most important and distinguished theater companies in the world and currently staffs over 1,000 people who produce around 20 shows annually across the globe.
He took charge of the National Theater in 1973, presiding over its move from the Old Vic to the Southbank Center, a sprawling, brutalist artistic complex on the Thames which largely thanks to Hall has become a beloved.
In later years, Hall battled against then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher to ensure the RSC and National Theater, as well as many other important art institutions, received government backing.
He continued to direct, both theater and opera, and champion public funding of the arts until his retirement in 2011, shortly after being diagnosed with dementia.
He died on Monday while hospitalized in London, surrounded by his family.
He is survived by his wife, his six children and his three ex-wives.