Cheers for Three Halls at Once on London Stages

Last Update: 11 January 2003

Source: The New York Times
January 11, 2003

Cheers for Three Halls at Once on London Stages

LONDON, Jan. 10 — Sir Peter Hall, a perennial of the British theater for 50 years, is onstage this particular afternoon in a different role: as the concerned and proud paterfamilias.

"I hope you didn't stay out too late," Sir Peter tells his daughter Rebecca, 20, who has just arrived at a theater in central London for a joint interview and photo session with her father and one of her brothers, Edward, 36. The three Halls have assembled to commemorate the first time that they have all been working concurrently on the London stage.

Sir Peter has important reasons to wish ample sleep for Ms. Hall, the fifth of six children that this director, now 72, has had with four wives. (Her mother is wife No. 3, the opera singer Maria Ewing.) Ms. Hall is making her stage debut, directed by her father, in a West End revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession," for which she has received strong reviews.

Ms. Hall plays Vivie Warren, the judgmental Cambridge graduate at odds with her brothel-keeping mother, Mrs. Warren (played by Brenda Blethyn). The play is to run through next Saturday at the Strand Theatre.

In The New York Times, Ben Brantley said Ms. Hall emerged from the production "not only unscarred but also triumphant."

Directing may be harder than fatherhood, Sir Peter suggested after admonishing his daughter. "You never make these demands as a father, but you do as a director," he explained.

Sir Peter's warning is only an intimation of his famous fieriness. Often branded arrogant, he has had frequent run-ins with numerous notables, among them Harold Pinter. They had a falling-out for most of the 1980's because of remarks Sir Peter made in his diaries about Mr. Pinter's private life. (The diaries caused a furor when they were published, first in Britain in 1983 and then in the United States in 1984.) The men have since made up.

Soon afterward, Sir Peter's attentions shift to Mr. Hall, who is following in his father's footsteps as a director. His West End production of "Macbeth," starring Sean Bean and Samantha Bond, has just opened at the Albery Theater to decidedly mixed reviews, an inevitable professional ordeal that this father knows all too well.

But Mr. Hall, his father's son, seems to be a bit prickly. "If there's one thing I hate, it's people coming out of my shows going, `Well, that was all right,' " he says, joining his sister and father in a lively chat marked by good humor and the inevitable interruptions that punctuate any family conversation. "I like people to come out spitting because they hated it so much or being over the moon, so in that respect, I suppose I am a gambler." In this case, the reviews hardly mattered: the production paid back its investment within seven weeks and has been extended a month, through March 1.

These days, Sir Peter's own West End productions have had some caustic reviews. There is a wide perception that he is no longer producing his most invigorating work, preferring to coast in a world where he once regularly accepted challenges. The exception is his continued immmersion in the Greek repertory, for which he still draws praise. At one time or another, all five of Sir Peter's adult children have held jobs in the arts. The eldest son, Christopher, 45, the first of Sir Peter's two children by the actress Leslie Caron, is a television producer. His credits include a new version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," the Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes mystery, which was recently on the BBC.

His daughter Jennifer, 42, was an actress who was directed by her father during the 1980's in his tenure as artistic director of the National Theater, a post he relinquished in 1988; she now works in public relations for fashion.

Edward is next, followed by Lucy, 33, a onetime theater designer who worked on her father's West End "Hamlet" in 1994; their mother is the second Mrs. Hall, Jacqueline Taylor, a former employee of the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford who later became Sir Peter's assistant.

Rebecca arrived in 1982. Sir Peter's last child is 10-year-old Emma, his daughter by his fourth wife, Nicki Frei, an erstwhile National Theater publicist who is 30 years her husband's junior.

To hear Sir Peter discuss it, the real surprise would have been if any of his children had not tried the creative life. "It would have been horrible," he says. "It is such a joy to have a group of people whom you love and you're close to and whom you think you understand — even if perhaps sometimes you don't — who are actually interested in the same things you are. That's really, really terrific."

Mr. Hall chimes in, "The only thing you didn't ever want me to do was ride a motorbike."

Sir Peter responds, "Yes, that's absolutely true."

Did Mr. Hall ride one anyway? Yes, he says, "for 18 years."

Sir Peter has a comeback: "You just wait until your little daughter starts riding one." (Mr. Hall and his wife, the singer and actress Issy van Randwyck, have a baby, Georgia.)

Mr. Hall's riposte: "Then I'll know how you feel."

Still, it can't be easy forging a career in your father's profession when he is a man who has dominated the British theater and opera worlds for decades, from the English-language premiere in London in 1955 of Beckett's "Waiting For Godot" through his founding of the Royal Shakespeare Company and his tenure with the National Theater, not to mention his many productions now.

Mr. Hall identifies the problem. "If you do something bad," he says, "everyone goes, `Oh, of course, he's the son of Sir Peter Hall — gossip, gossip, gossip.' " And if you do something well? Then, Mr. Hall observed, "they say, `Well, of course; he's the son of Sir Peter Hall.' "

That may be why Sir Peter takes such pleasure in his son's career, which is picking up steam. Having had his own theater company, Propeller, for the last five years, Mr. Hall has directed three West End plays in 2002 alone. (One, "Rose Rage," followed his father's revival of "Lady Windermere's Fan" into the Theater Royal, Haymarket, early last summer.) In 2000, Mr. Hall spent six months on and off working alongside his father on "Tantalus," a 10-part, two-day sequence of plays about the Trojan War that had its world premiere in Denver before a British tour.

"I would never have got through it without him, really," Sir Peter says. He turns to his son and adds, "I've so been yearning for you to be seen as what you are." And now that Mr. Hall is increasingly established, Sir Peter says, "You can be conceited about your children, which you can't be about yourself."

Ms. Hall tried to be cautious about trading on the family name. She had earned strong reviews in her father's adaptation for British television of the Mary Wesley novel "The Camomile Lawn," but she had never worked professionally onstage before "Mrs. Warren."

The intention, Sir Peter said, was "to have her walk on the first night as a working actress playing the part and not have everybody say ——"

Ms. Hall interjects, "Is she going to be able to do it?"

Next summer she will be directed by her father in "As You Like It," opening in Bath.

Among these Halls, what possible collaborative permutation is left? That's easy: Mr. Hall directing Ms. Hall. Both blush at the prospect, but Sir Peter likes the idea.

"I'm sure that will happen," he says with his usual brash confidence. "And I look forward to it."


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