Sir Peter Hall & Lara FootNew Horizons

Published in 2005icon-clockTime to read: 4m40s
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Embarking on the second cycle of the Rolex Mentor Protégé Arts Initiative, Sir Peter Hall had a logical, coherent plan. His agenda for the year included several of his specialties: among them Shakespeare (As You Like It, for the first time in his career), Harold Pinter (a revival of Betrayal, of which he directed the premiere in 1978), and opera (La Cenerentola, the Rossini version of Cinderella). Wasting no time, Sir Peter summoned Lara Foot to rehearsals for his production of Shaw’s Man and Superman even before the programme had officially begun. But Sir Peter soon began to develop an intriguing theory about his new associate. “My hunch,” he said within weeks, “is that Lara’s really a primary creator. Not an interpreter or a ‘re-creator’, though she can do that, too. Writing plays, making films – that’s where she belongs.”

by Matthew Gurewitsch 2005
  • Sir Peter Hall
    The Mentor
  • Lara Foot
    The Protégé

London Debut

Tshepang, the 70-minute, one-act play that brought Foot to life for Sir Peter, is her first original drama. Such an experienced reader of scripts as Sir Peter could recognize the potential of such a property instantly. From his hands, it quickly passed into those of Thea Sharrock, a former assistant who was just taking up the reins as artistic director of The Gate, London’s self-appointed “home of international drama”. Sharrock pounced on the chance to present it as the opening attraction of her tenure, for three weeks beginning in September 2004. The scheme fell into place in six weeks: the twinkling of an eye.

Unsuspected discoveries

At home in South Africa between stints with Sir Peter, Foot found herself guided by his example. In workshops with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, she began experimenting in a new vein, abandoning her previous improvisatory practice (“making plays on the floor”) to focus on structure, form and rhythm of language and scenes. “I surprised the students,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Following her mentor’s advice

After Tshepang, Sir Peter’s chief piece of advice to Foot came down to two words: “Write more.” It intrigued him to hear of a writing project she had in hand, working title Gravitas, the anatomy of a relationship between a man and woman who live in a village that is gradually sinking into the Earth. “I’m not sure I like the story yet,“ Foot confessed while in a preliminary stage. “It’s inspired by what is happening around us, but I still don’t know why the village is rotting away.”

A promise kept

Early on, Sir Peter had accepted Foot’s invitation to visit her on her own turf, though a question remained as to the timing. In March 2005, he kept his promise. Other beneficiaries were players at the Baxter, whom he led in a workshop on Hamlet (an Everest they were due shortly to climb), and the general public, whom he held spellbound with a lecture on the right way to play Shakespeare. Foot responded as glowingly to these events as she did to the continuation of their private dialogue, with sessions on the formal (rather than psychological) qualities of Betrayal and on Shaffer’s international hit Amadeus.

Two-way street

“I was talking subjectively, autobiographically, trying not to be in any sense prescriptive or to say: ‘This is the way you do it’,” Sir Peter reports. Foot was excited, too, to share the visuals she had been developing for Gravitas, and to talk through the play’s evolving themes and scenes. They spoke as director to director, then, with hardly a segue, as playwright and director. In both capacities, Foot felt buoyed up with a new confidence.

Voice of encouragement

As for Sir Peter, he has found ample confirmation that her true place is with the primary creators. “Write more,” he told her once again. “Playwrights are rarer, more precious than directors.”

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch for Unique Voices, Common Visions, a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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