Interview: Edward Hall on Rose Rage and seeing red at the RSC
2nd June 2002
Why I quit the RSC
Director Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter, has refused to discuss the day he sensationally left the RSC – until now. In Turkey with his acclaimed adaptation of the Henry VI trilogy, he talks to Dominic Cavendish. Published in the Daily Telegraph, 06 Jun 2002
A storm is breaking over Istanbul. Bolts of lightning are twisting down into this dense, immense city with such force that even its sturdy high-rise hotels and gleaming mosques suddenly look vulnerable. In the distance, gusting rain darkens the waters of the Bosphorus, heralding a welcome drop in temperature.
Edward Hall calmly watches this elemental drama unfold from the eyrie of a cafe at the top of Galata Tower, a magnificent stone edifice built by the Genoese in the 14th century. He’s taking a break from the rehearsal for Rose Rage, his acclaimed abattoir-set adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy, which, in unforgettably depicting the multiple slaughters of the Wars of the Roses by means of violent assaults on cabbages and animal guts, has been deemed just the thing for the late-May International Istanbul Theatre Festival (marking a Turkish premiere for this particular chunk of the histories).
With the heavens raging above him, Hall, in his own far quieter way, tries to clear the air on a topic that has plagued him since March, when the 36-year-old director sensationally quit the RSC at the start of rehearsals for Edward III. He didn’t comment on his departure at the time, beyond admitting disagreements over casting, but the press had a field day. Here was one of the rising stars of the younger generation – the kind of blade Adrian Noble’s controversial restructuring was supposed to be attracting – and the son of the RSC’s founder Sir Peter Hall to boot, washing his hands of the project.
It represented another nail in Noble’s coffin, but Hall’s reputation, bedecked in laurels after three successive RSC mainhouse hits, most recently Julius Caesar, was also tarnished. Wasn’t it suspicious that, days later, it was announced that he’d be directing a West End revival of Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife? “Read into that what you will,” an aggrieved-sounding Noble told The Daily Telegraph shortly afterwards.
In Turkey, Hall proves in a relaxed, expansive mood, prepared for the first time to give his version of events. This is partly because he’s just become a father (his wife, the actress Issy van Randwyck, is back home tending to two-week-old daughter Georgia); partly because his Turkish hosts are treating him and his company, Propeller, like visiting royalty; but mainly it is because he feels at a safe enough distance from the whole affair.
“I want to set the record straight,” he says. “My departure has been inaccurately spoken about and reported. Without wishing to go into the full nitty-gritty, I will say that, when I was trying to produce Edward III, there was a degree of confusion and disorganisation within the company that made pulling into focus a production I’d been thinking about for three years very difficult. I was expected to start rehearsing without the full cast and I seemed to be the only person who thought that was unacceptable.”
Exacerbating his frustration was the belief that he hadn’t been given the agreed amount of rehearsal time. The plays in the Swan’s Shakespearean-era season were intended to be put on swiftly, in little more than three weeks, except, he says, for Edward III. “I was supposed to have seven weeks, cross-rehearsing with Eastwood Ho! I knew the text inside out and I knew exactly how long I needed. I didn’t get what I was promised.
“The notion that I left that show in order to do a commercial production is insulting, preposterous and slanderous. I was out of a job. We had a baby coming. Theatre directors are not the best-paid people in the world. So I got on the phone. Luckily [producer] Bill Kenwright said, ‘I’ve got the rights to The Constant Wife. Would you like to do it?’ I leapt at the chance. It was designed and cast in five days, and we started rehearsing the following week. That’s the truth.”
Hall is only too aware that many people have supped their fill on stories of internecine strife at the RSC and insists on drawing a line under the episode. Although determined to stage Edward III at some point, he says he harbours no rancour – “These things happen” – and even speaks kindly of Noble: “I was very upset for him when he resigned. Anyone who’s seen him in a rehearsal room will have been affected by his brilliance as a director.”
There have been some reports that Hall is a likely candidate to step into the breach. He pronounces himself flattered, but he’s hardly racing to pop his application in the post. “I’ve moved on, really,” he says. “I’m not sure what my relationship with the RSC will be in the future. I’m busy with other things now.”
In the autumn, he’s slated to direct Sean Bean in a West End Macbeth, and there are plans for him to have his first crack at opera. But his all-male touring ensemble, Propeller, which brings Rose Rage into the West End for the summer, and thereafter is going to mount A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will continue to absorb much of his energies.
This Shakespeare-dedicated troupe has been reconvening regularly ever since a roundly praised Henry V at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, their de facto base, five years ago. It becomes clear from spending four days in their company that this band of thespian brothers would follow their leader to the ends of the earth, should the opportunity arise. And, crucially to Hall, who’s tired of the “son of Sir Peter” tag, they don’t give a fig about his ancestry.
Among those queuing up to sing his praises during the nightly bouts of carousing are Tony Bell, who plays the rebel Jack Cade and Simon Scardifield, who does a wonderful turn as Lady Grey. “What he does as a director is very simple, but very rare,” says Bell. “He treats his actors as artistic equals, involving them in how the story is going to be presented, while always remaining one step ahead, so they feel safe.”
Scardifield, spotted by Hall while performing at the RSC, agrees: “In rehearsals, there are things he knows he wants and things he doesn’t know yet. That’s a good mix. When he first told us we were going to be bashing animal lungs about, it seemed crazy. But he stuck to his guns, and he was quickly proved right.”
Rising to its feet at the end of the second instalment of Gulun Ofkesi (Rose Rage in Turkish), the audience at the Muhson Ertugral municipal theatre is thunderous in its approval for Hall’s offal-strewn spectacle. “I’m going to come back every night,” one woman gushes. Hall, however, must be jetting home to a different kind of visceral thrill: accrued nappy-changing duties.
“I honestly can’t wait,” he says, with a wink.