The son of Royal Shakespeare Company founder Peter Hall, Edward Hall founded an all-male troupe, Propeller, to produce daring interpretations of the Bard. Boris Kachka talked to him about bringing his latest effort, The Winter’s Tale, to BAM.
You’re famous for experimentation: In The Winter’s Tale, men play all the roles, and in Rose Rage, actors cut up pig innards—does that lack of realism confuse audiences?
What part of watching someone pretend to be someone else isn’t unreal? Ben Jonson said The Winter’s Tale was Mannerist claptrap. And I’ve always loved Mannerism, non-naturalist aesthetics. My favorite painting in the world is The Scream. When The Winter’s Tale works well, it takes you into that arena.
You were also accused of messing with A Streetcar Named Desire last year—particularly for casting John C. Reilly as Stanley Kowalski.
When we started, we said, what’s the point of doing Streetcar if we do what everyone thinks they remember? Stanley was originally conceived as an older working-class Polack. And someone said Natasha [Richardson, as Blanche DuBois] was too young, but Blanche was actually written in her mid-thirties. Sometimes people just aren’t accurate in the way they know their classic material, because it’s received ideas. I don’t ever try to pervert original intention.
And is it the same for Shakespeare—even when you rework the text?
Well, for Shakespeare, I don’t think anyone can say what traditional means. Mostly it’s the nineteenth-century idea of the sixteenth-century idea of what Elizabethan costume was. And don’t get me going on the original text! [He gets going anyway, for several minutes.] So I will certainly fiddle around if I think it’s worthwhile. If he was here, I’m sure he’d be changing it. He was a canny commercial writer; he’d want a full theater. And what he’d be really pissed about is not getting a royalty. Can you imagine?