Walter Kerr, reviewing the Broadway production in The New York Times in 1967, wrote that Mr. Hall had directed the cast “to make sleepwalking and strangled speech constitute a theatrical effect in and for itself,” adding “we are not engrossed by the eternal hesitation-waltz, but seriously put off by it.” (Among those onstage: Pinter’s wife at the time, Vivien Merchant.)
As with Beckett, Mr. Hall was sensitive to every word — and, equally important, pause — in the script, and according to Pinter’s biographer Michael Billington, “once held a dot-and-pause rehearsal to mark the precise musical notations in Pinter’s text.”
Peter Shaffer’s haunted portrait of the rivalry between a musical genius (Mozart) and a genius manqué (Salieri) allowed Mr. Hall, now the head of the Royal National Theater, to display his showman’s instinct for large, well-populated canvases, rococo flourishes and ripe acting that stopped just short of melodrama.
He guided two sets of illustrious actors to benchmark performances in the leading adversarial roles: Paul Scofield (as Salieri) and Simon Callow (as Mozart) in London, and Ian McKellen (who won a Tony for his Salieri) and Tim Curry (a raging enfant terrible as young Wolfgang) on Broadway in 1980.
Orpheus Descending (1988)
From the early days of his career, Mr. Hall had shown a particular affinity for the works of Tennessee Williams (in productions of “Camino Real” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in the later 1950s). For the debut of his new independent commercial venture, the Peter Hall Company, he chose a florid drama that had never received much love from critics.
But his “Orpheus,” seen on Broadway in 1989, did much for the play, and its author’s, reputation at a time when Williams was out of fashion. His leading lady, Vanessa Redgrave (struggling with an indeterminate accent), was brave, pathetic and finally transcendent in the role of Lady, the love-starved…