Director Sir Peter Hall was recognized today at the 23rd annual Laurence Olivier Awards with a Special Award for lifetime achievement, which he accepted with mixed emotions. The award coincides with the Arts Council's refusal to grant him £500,000 to keep intact his West End theatre company, resident until the end of the month at the Piccadilly Theatre.
According to this morning's Guardian newspaper, as a result of the company's demise, Hall will now be forced to leave the country. Rather than continue to mount critically acclaimed West End productions (he's staged more than 30 in the past decade), Hall plans to set up an American Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles. Though details have yet to be announced, Halls says that upcoming productions will include A Midsummer's Night Dream starring Kelly McGillis, Coriolanus starring Kevin Kline and King Lear starring Christopher Plummer.
The crisis in funding for Hall's London company arose last year when the director had a very public falling out with his producer of seven years Bill Kenwright who has financed the Peter Hall season. Hall was contracted by PW Productions to direct the revival of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, starring David Suchet at the Old Vic. Initially, Kenwright was supportive and even put up half of the funding for the production. But, according to Hall, Kenwright was unhappy with the details for a possible Broadway transfer. When Hall refused to also abandon the project, Kenwright withdrew future funding for Hall's residency at the Piccadilly. The season, which includes Judi Dench starring in Filumena and a revival of Alan Bennett's Kafka's Dick, ends Feb. 27. The two men, whose partnership lasted seven years, have not now spoken since August.
In accepting his Olivier award today, Hall thanked Kenwright twice for his former support but went on to comment acrimoniously on the rift: "We had a right royal row which proves to me that commerce thinks more about the deal than it does about the work."
Hall also used the Olivier stage for another public opportunity to denounce the Government and Arts Council for its confused arts policy and the lack of sufficient funding. And he announced the establishment of a "new and cheeky body" called the Shadow Arts Council which counts amongst its members Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter and which aims to offer ferocious opposition and media comment on arts issues. According to Hall, he was yesterday voted in as the chairman of the new organization. As far as he was concerned, the appointment meant that "it's not the end of my West End career" and also that he would not have to accept the "gold retirement watch" of the Olivier Special Award just yet. He plans to keep it in the back of his closet for the next 10 to 15 years.