thu 18/07/2024

Edward Hall, new artistic director of Hampstead Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Edward Hall, new artistic director of Hampstead Theatre

Edward Hall, new artistic director of Hampstead Theatre

Sir Peter's boy steps up: profile of theatre's latest appointee

Edward Hall on the stage of Hampstead TheatreHelen Maybanks

Hampstead Theatre today revealed the identity of their new artistic director. Edward Hall will take over at the end of this month when Anthony Clark steps down after seven years in the post. “Hampstead Theatre and I share a passion for finding new audiences for theatre and I am thrilled to be taking over as artistic director,” Hall said today. “I am excited by the company’s long and successful association with new writing and with the opportunities the building offers in creating a dynamic dialogue between the audience and the actors.”

Hall is already the founding artistic director of his own theatre company, Propeller, as well as an associate director at the National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. At 43, his directorial experience ranges across theatre, film and television. Within theatre, he is as well-known for staging Shakespeare, musicals and contemporary work. At the National he directed Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and David Mamet’s Edmond starring Kenneth Branagh. His 40th year found him directing shows as diverse as A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and Dick Whittington, Mark Ravenhill’s traditional panto for the Barbican. His most recent in the West End was in Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea starring Greta Scacchi. On television he has directed Trial and Retribution and Spooks.

But the work with which he is most closely identified is the Shakespeare productions put on by Propeller. With the support of the Watermill Theatre, he emerged from somewhere under the gigantic shadow cast by his father Sir Peter Hall to bring more Shakespeare productions to the West End than any director of his generation. They include a sell-out Macbeth with Sean Bean and the ultimate commercial coup of staging the three-part Henry VI – in a pared-down version under the racier name of Rose Rage - at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. In 2007 he brought The Taming of the Shrew, first seen as part of the RSC’s Complete Shakespeare season, and Twelfth Night to the Old Vic.

Apart from Macbeth, the unique selling point of Propeller is to perform Shakespeare as originally intended, with all-male casts. The other core element of their ethos is a lack of sets. Aided by the atmosphere supplied by Shakespeare’s language, they get by on costumes, make-up and props. “It started with a desire on my part to do a show that you could pack into flight cases and take as excess baggage,” Hall has told in an interview. “We did a tour of Henry V and A Comedy of Errors where we would wheel the set and costumes through the airport terminal with us and get on the plane from Djakarta and be able to open two nights later in Kuala Lumpur.”

For many, the one thing they know about Edward Hall is that he is the son of Sir Peter. As a child, all he knew about directing was what he observed from his father’s comings and goings: that “the hours were intense”. He acted at Bedales and Leeds University and went to drama college, but when he successfully raised a bank loan to mount Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in Cardigan, and made enough to pay the bank back, he came to a fork in the road. “I did think, Oh my God I like doing this, and Christ, what’s that going to mean? Am I going to get a rough time. And then very quickly I said, ‘You can’t dwell on that.’ I don’t think people will ever stop asking me about the father-son thing. And it’s never going to become a chain around my neck.”

In fact his sister Lucy, a theatre designer, and his half-sister Rebecca, an actress, have worked with their father more than he has (father and son co-directed Tantalus, a ten-part treatment of the Trojan wars, in 2000) and have it worse. “The pressure is as intense on them as it ever is on me, because every single person in the audience is thinking they’re only there because of their father. The great thing about my father is you have someone very close to you who can be extremely frank about your work. He’s given me really helpful perceptive notes. That’s all you want as a director when you’re in previews.”

His father has run a building or two in his time as well. Edward Hall's task at Hampstead will be to reinvogorate the theatre reputation as a producing house for new work. With so many other London theatres competing for new writing, Hampstead has struggled in recent years to find consistent critical favour. He once told me that when choosing plays to direct, his policy is to “look for a play that I think is greater than I am. And there are plenty of those around.”

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Thanks for reminding me who directed A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Up there with the Jones Annie Get Your Gun as one of the wittiest musical evenings ever. Got to be a good thing.

Yes, I agree that Ed Hall is a super director, and his Shakespearean productions have been a real delight. He's also a nice man, a great advocate of theatre and a general blessing on the British theatre scene. However, he has so little experience of directing plays by living playwrights, and zero profile in the new writing scene, that his appointment is either a joke, or a portent. If it's a joke, it's one of those wild card things: failing theatre with dreadful reputation hires the biggest outsider imaginable, and then sits back to see what will happen. Or if it's a portent: new writing theatre realises there is no future in putting on new plays and hires a director who will put on old ones. Which of these answers is correct?

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