How we met: Peter Hall and Gerald Scarfe

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The Independent Culture
Sir Peter Hall was born in 1930. He founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, was director of the National Theatre and now has his own

theatre company. He has also directed films and operas.

Divorced three times, he is married to Nicki Frei, and has two sons and four daughters. Gerald Scarfe was born in 1936. His career as a political cartoonist began in Private Eye and Punch. He has written and directed for TV, and designs for film, theatre and opera. Married to Jane Asher, he has two sons and a daughter. He and Sir Peter are working on Feydeau's An Absolute Turkey.

PETER HALL: I knew Gerald's work from Private Eye in the early Sixties, and then he started to do caricatures of politicians and actors and showbusiness people. I was running the RSC in those days and I did a production of Hamlet. The press office told me that Gerald Scarfe was coming to do a caricature at rehearsals. I saw this very handsome, muscular man sitting in the stalls drawing away like fury. That's how I met him.

I seem to have known him for ever. I find him a very humorous, idealistic, very principled man. Most people in the media develop a certain cynicism but I don't think that Gerald has any. He still wears his heart on his sleeve. The ferocity of his drawings is because he's still hopeful that things could and should be better, and people shouldn't be such hypocrites. He sees men and women as part of a jungle, he is drawing a bestiary in a way. We are all beasts, and we keep straying and need reminding of it.

I like his work and I admire his talent. There are people that you like to spend time with because they're amusing or perceptive and people you are glad to meet. I'm always glad to meet Gerald. We talk about politics, outrage, disgrace. I find him very sympathetic. We both have a distrust of politics and politicians. I see him socially as well as working. It's usually by chance at a first night or someone's launch party. He's extremely busy and so am I. One of the problems about a busy career is that you don't meet people unless you're working with them. So I'm not very good at keeping my friendships in repair. The most lasting friendships in my life are because I was always working with the person. It's very renewing to have time with friends. And in that paradise world that I look forward to, where there will be 48 hours in each day, I would have regular little dinner parties and lots of lovely chat and Gerald Scarfe would often be there. I find him very gentle and I think he's a great artist, not only because of his extraordinary lines but because of his sense of colour. It's this sense of colour that's always made me want to work with him in the theatre.

We've worked together twice now, this is the third time. We did a version of Rhinoceros in Winchester a few years ago and he did The Magic Flute with me in Los Angeles, which was beautiful. Feydeau I asked him to do not because I want people to look funny - they mustn't, they are deadly serious - but because I wanted to plug into that sense of colour.

On this set we're doing now, I thought that the ambience of the production should be dark red, which seemed to me very sexy, very French, also rather comic. Gerald loved that idea. And I thought the floor should be pale planking. But he said let's have it black, black planking. And already, a world starts to be created.

That's what collaboration's about. He's very good at that, which is quite rare. Major artists can sometimes be quite difficult. But what's wonderful about Gerald, if you see him at a costume fitting, is that he changes things on the hoof, he's very of the moment.

Like all great artists he never stands still. He is very interested in making film, in form and shape in three dimensions which is the opposite of being a caricaturist and working in two dimensions on a sheet of paper. Given the extraordinary ability he has to draw, I would have thought it would be terribly easy to become a routine cartoonist or a routine illustrator. There's nothing routine about Gerald. He's serious in a sense that he's always questing.

I've always thought that it would be really interesting to do non-Gerald Scarfe projects with him, not a funny play, or a play that needs a touch of caricature, but straight, serious plays. That was part of the reason that I asked him to do The Magic Flute, though obviously it also has comic and fantastic elements. The problem with fairy stories is that you have to have your feet on the ground, but he created an entire, absolutely beautiful, absolutely real, other world.

GERALD SCARFE: The first time I saw Peter in the flesh was when I went to Stratford to make a drawing while he was rehearsing Hamlet. That was somewhere about 1965.

I remember he was smoking a cheroot. He looked very long and lanky and I drew him slumped in a chair. I also remember David Warner, the actor who was playing Hamlet, haring about the stage in a sort of angular way, flinging himself on the ground. At the time I thought how much command and control Peter had - it was very interesting to see, as it always is with a director, just how they bring a performance out of an actor, how they cajole them into the role. Some people may produce things by being bullied into it, others may produce things by being loved into it, it's a matter of being a psychologist and measuring the person you're dealing with.

It was some time later that we finally got to work together. I went to a BBC Prom, and Peter was in the same box, and during the interval he said 'I've got something I would like you to work on' - it was a musical of Ionesco's Rhinoceros he'd written.

The difficulty I always find about being a designer is that in my other work, newspapers or advertisements or whatever, I'm trained to hit hard, to come across, because on the page you're fighting with headlines, with advertisements, with everything else for prominence. With an illustration you've got to make it zing forward. So it's very difficult for me as an artist to take a collaborative view of things, to complement the piece and the actors. My tendency is to show off.

I did the sets for Orpheus in the Underworld at the English National Opera, not with Peter, and one of the reviews said 'Don't work with children, animals or Gerald Scarfe', because the sets had begun to take over from the action itself. But Peter's very good at letting me rip and then reining me in.

I'm flattered that he should want to work with me and I believe that he can bring something new to my work because I'm known for a kind of grotesque style. What he very kindly says is that although the things that I drew were horrible, they were drawn in an elegant way, which gave them a different aspect, a horrible beauty. What he offers me is what every actor and artist wants to know - what other part of their persona can be brought out, other than the one everybody knows.

I always regard him as having the final word, but he's open to discussion. When I direct films I like the idea that I'm using everybody else's talents - cameraman, soundman, actors - to make one picture. I appreciate what Peter has to do, and it would be stupid to scream and stamp my foot and say 'This has got to be yellow]' That would be nonsense.

Peter has a deep knowledge of the theatre and what works in the theatre. And he has a simplicity which is the sort of thing that all artists aim towards, a cutting away of all the nonsense filigree and little twiddly bits that the more inexperienced put in. He goes for the simple pattern of the thing that brings out its true meaning.

It becomes easier working with someone you know because there are certain things that don't have to be discussed. He knows the way I work, he's tremendously trusting and allows me to go my own way. He also has a very good graphic sense, a good colour sense, a very good vision of what the piece should look like as well as what it should sound like.

I haven't drawn him a lot. I keep meaning to draw him during rehearsals but I'm always so busy that I never get round to it. Things in progress are interesting, it's always nice to know the stages they go through. I keep meaning to do rehearsal drawings. People are not all easy to capture on paper but Peter has a very distinct and characterful face, and he's also an imposing, larger-than-life figure.-

(Photograph omitted)

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