Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Interview • EDWARD HALL • A Midsummer Night’s Dream • 2003

edhallEd Hall (he’s happy to be called Ed or Edward, ‘most people call me Ed’), props himself into one of those infamously uncomfortable folding director’s chairs at a minuscule kitchen table, mobile on ‘silent’, puffing occasionally on his panatela, and exuding the intellectual energy of a man with a mission.

This energy is certainly infectious. Moments before he had whisked me on a guided tour of the Watermill Theatre site, trying doors here, peering through windows there, exploring this early nineteenth century clutter of mill and farm buildings that now enchantingly hosts a theatre, restaurant and rehearsal complex, seamlessly juxtaposed into the original timber framework, perfectly complementing this idyll of rural England.

‘Why at the Watermill?’ I hear you say. As a rabid Londoner, what could the Watermill offer me that I couldn’t find in the central or suburban confines of the metropolis? As I cruised along the M4, jostling with the afternoon commuter haul, Radio 4 chattering reassuringly in the background, I realised how often we miss out on real theatrical adventures. Off the motorway at Junction 13, heading towards the expanded market town of Newbury, a sign to the Watermill Theatre leads me along winding English country lanes, through an idyllic one-pub village, and effortlessly into the courtyard car park of the theatre. A rivulet, swollen by the recent rains, bustles noisily in the early evening winter’s darkness. Large farmyard ducks huddle on the bankside, and a dog barks impotently in the distance. I breathe in fresh air, and listen to the stillness.

What a magical place to see Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Hall is obviously passionate about the play: ‘It’s a beautiful, delicate, and at times brutal illumination of love, about love.’ Performed by twelve ‘quite young’ male actors, Hall sees it as only ‘logical to explore one of Shakespeare’s feminine plays’, what he describes as this ‘sensual erotic tragicomedy’.

I am in the presence of a professional. I wasn’t there to interview Hall, merely soak up the enthusiasm, and record a well rehearsed, impeccably presented, and fiercely honest exposition of the excitement of a man who is obviously doing exactly what he was put on this earth to do — direct.

The rehearsal process for the actors has been refined through several collaborative all-male productions, notably Hall’s Othello, Henry V, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, and, most recently, his adaptation of Henry VI, punningly called Rose Rage, which transferred to the Haymarket Theatre, London in 2002. ‘We’ve been rehearsing about three weeks, and we open in a week and a half, including the technicals, so it’s quite a tight schedule.’

It isn’t just the schedule that’s tight. The rehearsal room, cluttered with props and costumes, kettle and coffee, a square shaped area dissected and marked cryptically with multi-coloured tape, appears no bigger than a roomy London bedsit. This square, the exact dimensions of the theatre performing space itself, is a two-dimensional floorplan that requires some interpretation. ‘Those two green squares’, one edge toothily pointing offstage, ‘they’re the columns’. Entrances and exits are through the auditorium, and with a mischievous grin, Hall describes the theatre space itself: ‘You know the Orange Tree in Richmond? Well, it’s like that — only prettier!’

The walls of the rehearsal room are papered, literally papered, with cascading sheets of flipchart, sellotaped together, and blue-tacked to every available surface. Large red and black graffiti messages are scrawled all around the space. Character studies, plot nuances, locations, ideas, a collective memorial of a rehearsal of exploration, mutual support and development. No wasted energy here. No sign of a tyrannical director, slavishly intellectualizing his dream, and drip-feeding the actors with information. These are professionals working together as a close-knit team.

‘The whole process has to be one of discovery, we can’t atrophy,’ claims Hall, as he discusses the pros and cons of working so closely with a group of actors, who for the most part have remained together for the Ed Hall productions. The pros — ‘self-awareness, working together, we know each other, we can cut to the chase, we have the freedom to explore with each other, and, most importantly, to feel comfortable enough to make mistakes’. And as for the cons? ‘All of the above’ says Hall. ‘We must reinvent our relationships — break the chains’, to make sure the productions remain fresh and vibrant.

The style of performance is also vital to Hall. ‘I’m determined not to chain the play to the floor with elaborate modern conceits’ such as extravagant stage, sound or lighting effects. ‘If the play demands music, we play music, it’s as simple as that’. And, most importantly, Hall admits it’s ‘hard to describe until we’ve done it — there’s an infinite possibility to the play’s world, with no literal logic’.

This animosity towards what he describes as the ‘technology’ of modern performance displays Hall’s fascination with countering those ‘aesthetic traditional principles’ which have surrounded Shakespearean performance for over two centuries. ‘Shakespeare’s plays are full of metaphors’, and by ‘defining the plays through the actors, the sounds, the music, and the relationship with the audience, we are able to express these metaphors’. In fact, Hall’s mantra is simple: ‘Good theatre is metaphor.’

The metaphorical strength of Shakespeare-as-poet is central to Hall’s productions. ‘With metaphor, the poet can describe infinite possibility to the world — with no literal logic’. For Hall, this is fundamental to the beauty of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘As Theseus describes it, the poet is the only person who can explain the enormous irrationality of human feelings.’

Hall strives to return to an ‘originality’ of performance by ‘exploring the plays as they used to be written’. He is scathing of those ‘traditionalists and academics’ whom he believes have ‘hijacked’ Shakespeare’s plays, taking their ‘very clear and simple stories written in simple and clear language’ for ‘a primarily illiterate audience’, and turning them into elite and inaccessible period pieces. ‘No other dramatist writes to all sorts of people as Shakespeare.’

As for the gender issues of an all male cast? ‘What gender issues? We’re only doing it the way they were originally performed. ‘Shakespeare’s plays transcend gender issues — they are not dealing with sexuality as we view it. One human being’s love for another, whether man for woman, woman for woman, man for man, it makes no odds. Shakespeare was writing about love — a visionary way of viewing love.’

I ask Hall, what does he want to say to those who read about his production and are unsure: ‘If you’ve never been to a Shakespeare play, come to ours, or if you’ve ever been put off Shakespeare because of school, come, give us a try.’ With a farewell ‘please come and join us’, I leave Hall to relax before the next day’s rehearsal. I’m convinced. I’ll be there. Metaphorical wild horses won’t keep me away!

Kevin Quarmby © 22 January 2003

Originally published on R&V 04-02-03


2 comments on “Archive Interview • EDWARD HALL • A Midsummer Night’s Dream • 2003

  1. beetleypete

    The Halls are something of a theatrical dynasty in this country, and have produced some great work. Thanks for the re-post, Sarah.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • First Night Design

      Only a re-post in the sense of a transfer across of an interview I commissioned from Kevin for my original R&V site. There are so many more articles to transfer across and I never seem to have time, which is why I often post reblogs from others! Glad you enjoyed it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Shalden & Neatham sister site to the Reluctant Janeite

Jane Austen, her letters & other literary digressions

stewilko's Blog

A place for my thoughts

Her Diffident Way

The only way I know


Mostly photographs with some words by this arty scientist...


Viewing movies in a different light

Mandy Bangerter

Textile Artist and Teacher


Smile! You’re at the best site ever


Bohemian Stuff

pulseless electrical activity.

The Observation Post

mistermuse, half-poet and half-wit

Wild Star Landing

Poetry, Facts, Fiction, Inspired by Travel, Art, Science, Nature & Philosophy

Turtle Bunbury

Historian * Author * Presenter * Speaker * Guide

Fierce Writing

Not so much Rage Against the Machine as Slightly Peeved the Taps Won't Work

Victorian Footnotes

Bringing back the forgotten

Etan Smallman

Freelance journalist

Michael Ehrhardt

Permanenter Ausstellungsraum


Writing about writing; words about the world

It's all in the Past!

Writing about current events from a historical perspective.

Mrinalini Raj


History Quirks

The Casual Past


Words and images from the past

The adventures of Janice Duke and her Magical Travelling Paint Box

Caz Greenham...Storyteller...Author...

Creator and Author of The Adventures of Eric Seagull 'Storyteller' series

Movies From The Silent Era

A repository for movies from the silent era

Art Universal

Art as a Sensory

Henry Brooke

Musings, Memories and Miscellanea

Matthew Toffolo's Summary

Daily summary of the life/movie world.

When Angels Fly

Author site of S. Jackson & A. Raymond

off the leash

History, technology, books and baseball.



Writer Site

Memoir, poetry, & writing theory


faces gourmet world of fashion, design and art

From guestwriters

Lifestyle magazine and Readers Digest

The Vintage Toy Advertiser

Suffering ink-stained fingers and occasional staple wounds to bring you wonderful images of late 20th century advertising and paperworks

Sauce Box

Never get lost in the Sauce


Theatre, Film and TV.

Smart History Blog

Compelling Stories of Russian History

Newcastle Photography

Photography Blog by Chris Egon Searle

Brave and Reckless

Reclaiming my inner badass at 50

Gretchen Del Rio's Art Blog

Watercolor paintings

Today in History

"Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever." - Steve Sabol, NFL Films

The Architect & I

The Nazis assigned him a number but I wanted the world to know his name.

Basic Archaeology

Archaeology News, Interesting Facts and More


Being a web log for the observations of actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker Trav S.D.

%d bloggers like this: