For us, as for many, his artistic directorship of the National Theatre in the 1980s was a remarkable period for British drama (Hall took over from its original artistic director, Sir Laurence Olivier, in 1973).
His tenure on the South Bank included his iconic staging of The Oresteia (which was performed on the National’s Olivier stage, as well as at the ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus, on which the Olivier is modelled) and legendary productions from the Shakespeare canon, such as Anthony and Cleopatra with Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench in the title roles.
Despite his widely known love and respect for the classical repertoire and fidelity to the original text, as artistic director of the National, Hall was also immensely supportive of new writing. Indeed, among the 33 productions that Hall directed for the National were the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), and the London premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce.
One of Hall’s most memorable productions was the 1984 staging of his own adaptation of Animal Farm. Not only was this dramatization of the George Orwell classic the first production to grace all three stages of the National Theatre, it went onto to become one of the most loved shows ever to originate from London’s South Bank, enjoying several UK and international tours.
Barrie Rutter, founder of Northern Broadsides Theatre Company, appeared in the original cast of Animal Farm as the power-hungry pig, Napoleon. In the video via this link, Rutter recalls what it was like to rehearse with the late director.