Gregory Doran pays tribute to the RSC's founder, Sir Peter Hall, who died this week.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves
Julius Caesar (Act One Scene Two)

Our Artistic Director Gregory Doran said of his predecessor: “Sir Peter Hall was a Colossus, bestriding the British Theatre. He was a visionary.

“Not only was he a great director of theatre and opera, he was a politician who fought for the Arts. It is impossible to single out his greatest production. But his greatest legacy without doubt will be judged to be the formation of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961”.

Sir Peter Hall in a black suit and black scarf with papers tucked under his arm
Sir Peter Hall in 2004

Peter Hall made his debut at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1956 with Love's Labour's Lost: his productions in the 1957-1959 seasons included Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft, Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier and A Midsummer Night's Dream with Charles Laughton.

In 1960, aged 29, Hall was appointed as Artistic Director, and created the Royal Shakespeare Company to realise his vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both modern and classic texts, with a distinctive house style.

The company not only played in Stratford but expanded into the Aldwych Theatre, as a first London home. Hall's many productions for the RSC included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Government Inspector (1966, with Paul Scofield), the world premiere of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (1965) and The Wars of the Roses (1963) adapted with John Barton from Shakespeare's history plays. This was described at the time as "the greatest Shakespearian event in living memory which also laid down the doctrine of Shakespearian relevance to the modern world."

Peter handed the company on to Trevor Nunn in 1968, and took over the National Theatre in 1973 which he ran for 15 years until 1988.

Artistic Directors' tributes

Former Artistic Directors also paid tribute to Peter Hall's life and work.

Michael Boyd, our Artistic Director from 2002 to 2012 said: “Peter Hall was a warm, human tower of strength, who managed somehow to contain the optimism and campaigning zeal of a great sixties reformer, with genuine literary and theatrical acumen, and the low cunning of a successful street salesman.”

Terry Hands was our Artistic Director from:1978 to 1991. He said: "Peter not only founded the RSC, he founded British Theatre as we know it today. Many of us have lost a friend, all of us have lost a benefactor."

Adrian Noble was our Artistic Director from 1991 to 2002. He said: "Peter was terrific company because he was full of ideas. Enthusiastic, gossipy, boyish and devastatingly astute about people, plays and productions.

"I assembled the former Artistic Directors of the RSC to say farewell to our great General Manager, David Brierley, on his retirement. Peter's latest project was to take over the Old Vic. He would assemble a company of actors, use little if any scenery and perform a repertoire of classics and contemporary work. 'What do you think, Adrian? Good idea, eh?' 'Yes, Peter, an excellent idea!' And it was quintessential Hall. He was returning to his original idea when he founded the RSC, an idea which sustained him in one form or another throughout his working life. Like the man, it was both immensely practical and intellectually rigorous.

"All the time I was running the company he was there; supportive , challenging, always on hand, sharp, smart, warm as toast, a real ally. Thanks, Peter."