Sir Peter Hall on Kingston's Rose Theatre

PUBLISHED: 13:28 22 October 2010 | UPDATED: 12:22 11 July 2014

Sir Peter Hall

Sir Peter Hall

As Kingston's brand new riverside theatre, the Rose, prepares to throw open its doors this month, JULIA GREGORY speaks to its director, the world-famous Sir Peter Hall, to find out what's in store

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine in 2008

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IT'S not every day that the curtain goes up on a new theatre. They are expensive to build and maintain, and it's always a gamble to see if they will attract a big enough audience to support them.

So, all eyes will be on Kingston's brand new £8 million theatre, the Rose, the first new theatre of the 21st century to be based on a 16th century design.

At the helm of this exciting project is Sir Peter Hall - one of the most experienced theatre directors of our time. During his long and successful career, he has presided over two of the country's foremost theatre companies - the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, which will forever be linked with Dorking's famous son Sir Laurence Olivier. He was also the first to bring Beckett's Waiting for Godot to British audiences and knows anyone who's anyone in the world of theatre.

Never one to turn down a challenge, when he was invited to become the director of the Rose Theatre in 2003, he seized the opportunity with both hands, and is confident that it will be a huge success story for Kingston.

"There's a million people living near the Rose who can come and see a play for less than West End prices," he says. "Plus, it's not such a sweat to get there.

"The building is really something special; it absolutely took my breath away when I saw the plans. It's worked really well."

The theatre is modelled on the 1587 Rose on London's Bankside, the venue for many of Shakespeare's plays. Just as the original theatre nestled on the banks of the River Thames, the new theatre is situated right beside the river too. It boasts a 900 seater auditorium, a smaller studio for 200 people and a gallery space that can accommodate 60.

"There may be nearly 1,000 seats, but it's an intimate space," Sir Peter continues. "It's very actor friendly and audience friendly. You can develop a dialogue between audience and actor.

"You can see virtually every member of the audience. It's a great space to tell a story."

The opening show...
And the first story will be that of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, which Sir Peter ranks as one of the ten best plays of all time.

"As a student, I did Uncle Vanya and it stayed with me," recalls the 77-year-old, who is directing the show. "It's an absolutely wonderful play. It's so economical and so funny and so heartbreaking.

"I've got a fantastic cast, but what really appealed to me was the extraordinary entertainment value of the play itself."

He says the theatre has won the support of many people in the community, including the dedicated 1,000 strong Friends of the Rose, some of whom have been involved since the idea was first mooted in 1988.

There have been many famous names who have come on board too - such as BBC Radio's David Jacobs who gave his backing right from the start and is chairman of the board of trustees.

Star studded support
The theatre has also received support from many well-known actors, including Richmond resident Jerry Hall, and also Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal who shot to fame in TV's The Good Life, set just down the road in Surbiton.

Dame Judi Dench, who lives in Outwood, was one of the stars who helped with the on-going fundraising and the children's writer Jacqueline Wilson, a Kingston resident herself, is another big supporter.

"There's an enormous feeling of excitement and pride, especially in the local area," adds Sir Peter, who believes the theatre will be a real boost to Kingston's cultural heritage - not to mention its economy.

"Kingston is very much its own place. It's a town and community that is very vibrant, very prosperous and very multi-racial. It's had enormous benefit from the university."

Though he lives in Chelsea, Sir Peter is chancellor of Kingston University and his links with the town have strengthened as he's got more involved with both roles.

He's particularly fond of the lively riverside culture, especially the stretch of the Thames heading up to Hampton Court, filled with boats, rowers and majestic swans. He also likes the thriving bars and eateries, which will appeal to audiences and actors alike, including restaurant Frere Jacques who have made a substantial donation to the theatre.

"I've been wondering how I can work the river itself into some kind of spectacular," adds Sir Peter.

University challenge...
One group that has welcomed the new theatre with open arms is the university's drama students. Not only will they benefit from the unique opportunity of performing at a brand new theatre, they will also have the support of one of the foremost names in the arts world.

"The collaboration between the university and the theatre will be wonderful in my view," adds Sir Peter. "The idea is to have an interchange. Students in their last year will be directly involved in the company's work. Most actors are very good teachers.

"It will be quite unique if you are on the course being a member of a professional company."

So, all in all, the future looks bright for Surrey's newest theatre, and it is sure to become a huge asset not only to Kingston but the entire county.

  • Rose Theatre, 24-26 High Street, Kingston, Surrey KT1 1HL: 0871 230 1552

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