The theatrical roles of Lord Vestibule

POWER PLAY: The Life and Times of Peter Hall Stephen Fay Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 20

In his Diaries, Peter Hall records his shock when, on standing at the window of his National Theatre office, he heard a river-launch guide with a megaphone denigrating the building and describing the director as "a pig called Peter Hall". Stephen Fay's Power Play is the first full- scale attempt to discover how the theatrical golden boy of the Sixties became the whipping boy of the Eighties, unaffectionately known as Genghis Khan, Lord Vestibule and Toad Hall.

Although this is the first biography, Peter Hall himself has recently published an autobiography, which together with the Diaries and the innumerable profiles and press reports, makes for an extremely well-documented life. Despite interviewing many of Hall's family, friends and colleagues and uncovering letters from luminaries such as Peggy Ashcroft, Harold Pinter and Laurence Olivier, Fay finds little of substance to add.

So he sticks fairly close to Hall's own account of his childhood: the familiar story of the working-class boy made good; his artistic tastes encouraged by his ambitious mother and aided by the free tickets available to his station-master father. He diverges, however, from Hall in choosing to emphasise his "head boy" qualities at school - charm, intelligence, organisational ability and popularity - rather than accepting Hall's view of himself as a fraudulent, low-class interloper.

Hall's passion for the theatre began with pantomime and puppets and continued through the Perse school plays. He was only 15 when, on a visit to Stratford, he determined that he would, one day, run its theatre, a moment that has now passed into myth in much the same way as Harold Wilson's career- clinching childhood visit to Number Ten. It was, however, at Cambridge, where he was deeply influenced by Dadie Rylands and FR Leavis (who represented the Cavalier and Roundhead sides of his temperament and talent) that his decision took root.

After Cambridge, Hall became the primus inter pares of a new generation of graduates who shifted the balance of theatrical power irrevocably away from actors and writers and towards directors. Aged 24, he was appointed director of the Arts Theatre, where, by a combination of circumstance, he found himself directing the English premiere of Waiting For Godot, which made his name. From there, he moved to Stratford and the founding of the RSC, where he trod a middle path between the star system of the West End and the state subsidy of the Soviet block, made a major contribution to the art of verse-speaking, and directed several productions, notably The Wars Of The Roses, and Pinter's The Homecoming, which remain touchstones today.

Hall's years at the RSC have been well-chronicled; Fay's contribution is to show how the conflict between his roles as director and administrator, which was to become so public in his time at the National, was present from the start. As head of the company, he exercised power - in his first season he replaced his old friend John Barton as director of The Taming Of The Shrew - but his ruthless politicking and managerial manipulation earned the distrust of the very people with whom he worked. So Glenda Jackson described him as a dictator, his first wife, Leslie Caron, likened him to Richelieu, and Franco Zeffirelli, when discussing the character of Iago, remarked "I see him as very young, with a baby face, always smiling . . . Do you act, Mr Hall?"

Fay analyses with considerable tact the breakdown of Hall's first three marriages and his happiness with his fourth wife, the translator, Nicky Frei. Hall is the epitome of the star director and, for years, his private life has received the attention reserved for stars; Fay adds few tints to the official portrait, except to hint at an affair with a youthful Vanessa Redgrave and to name one with his personal assistant, Sue Higginson.

Power Play is an uneven book. It contains several errors of fact (Mary Ure and Vanessa Redgrave did not play Volumnia's daughters in Coriolanus but her daughter-in-law and a friend, Olivier did not play the lead in the original television production of The Collection but in the 1976 transmission, John Barton's The Greeks was far more than a version of The Oresteia) which indicate a wider unease with the theatrical milieu. In providing a detailed account of Hall the power-player, it skirts round the far more significant aspect of Hall the play-maker.

For, above all, Hall is a director and, pace Joan Littlewood who described him as the very worst in the country, he is a great one. At first, Fay appears to balance the demands of management and productions as delicately as Peter Hall himself but, later he focuses too much on the former. He seems far happier in boardrooms than in rehearsal rooms and conveys none of the excitement involved in putting on a play. Few of Hall's productions are examined in any depth. And, although he quotes David Hare's theory of directorial neutrality, Fay offers little analysis of Hall's working methods, the development of his style, or comparisons with his confreres.

This, after all, will be Hall's legacy; not the wives and the enemies and the Sandersons adverts, but the founding of one great national company and the establishment of the other, together with many of the finest theatrical moments of the last 40 years.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue