Sir Peter Hall, who staged Samuel Beckett's `Waiting for Godot' when `no one else would touch it', dies aged 86

Sir Peter Hall has died at the age of 86. Picture by RSC/PA Wire

THE founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Peter Hall, who was the first to stage Samuel Beckett's `Waiting for Godot' despite "not having the foggiest what it means", has died aged 86.

Sir Peter's death was announced by the National Theatre, which said he died on September 11 at University College Hospital surrounded by his family.

After being put in charge of directing at the Arts Theatre in London, aged just 24, one of his first plays was a surreal new drama nobody else wanted to touch,`Waiting For Godot'.

The response to Godot, which premiered on August 3 1955, was mixed but it put Sir Peter on the map.

During an early rehearsal Hall told the cast "I haven't really the foggiest idea what some of it means ... But if we stop and discuss every line we'll never open."

It was based on Beckett's French play `En attendant Godot', but was not a literal translation, with "small but significant differences" that have come to characterise the text so revered across the English-speaking world today.

Five years later Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and was appointed as the National's director in 1973.

In the meantime, Tennessee Williams had asked him to direct his plays in London and he was also asked to direct at Stratford - an ambition since the age of 15.

Current director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris paid tribute.

"We all stand on the shoulders of giants and Peter Hall's shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it.

"All of us, including those in the new generation of theatre-makers not immediately touched by his influence, are in his debt.

"His legendary tenacity and vision created an extraordinary and lasting legacy for us all."

His last production with the National was 2011's Twelfth Night.

Sir Peter, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, is survived by his widow, Nicki and children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca, Emma and nine grandchildren.

His first wife was the actress Leslie Caron, his second was his former personal assistant Jacqueline Taylor, his third was the opera singer Maria Ewing and his fourth was Nicki Frei, a former press officer, his junior by 30 years.

He headed his own theatrical dynasty with some of his children: Jennifer is an actress, Christopher a television production manager, Edward a stage director and Lucy a designer.

Rebecca is a well-known actress who has starred in films such as Iron Man and the big-screen adaptation of The BFG and in 1992 she was directed by her father in the TV adaptation of The Camomile Lawn.

A private family funeral service will be held and details of a public memorial will be announced in due course.

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