Shakespeare’s plays, culminating with The Tempest, are master classes in the shifting undercurrents between parent and child, a theme from which the late Sir Peter Hall took continuous inspiration. The father of six children from four marriages, and arguably Britain’s greatest theater director, Hall chose this powerful play to be his first for the National Theatre, in 1974 (he’d been appointed director a year earlier), and revisited it 15 years later, casting the actress Jenny Hall—his daughter from his marriage to French actress Leslie Caron—in the role of Prospero’s daughter, Miranda.
Now, in a tribute to her father, who died in 2017, Jenny Hall makes her directorial debut with an online version of the play starring her sister Rebecca Hall (who was also directed onstage by her father) alongside Geraldine James (The Merchant of Venice, Downton Abbey). Born 24 years apart, Jenny, 62, and Rebecca, 38, share a look—long chestnut hair, insanely wide lips—plus a Cambridge education and a childhood spent on flip-up seats in theaters. “I do feel him over my shoulder in a very positive way,” says Jenny of her father. Familial closeness provides a shortcut to working with the text. “We don’t have to do the legwork to get there,” Rebecca tells me. “During our Zoom rehearsals, we have an understanding and unspoken knowledge of how to speak the verse that comes from our father.”
The production has a distinctly present-day feel to it. “I’ve cast a lot of the male parts with female actors. For instance, Geraldine James is playing Prospero,” Jenny says. “We feel differently about gender now, and it’s important to pay respect to this new awareness.” Would Sir Peter have done that? “He wasn’t gender-blind to casting,” says Rebecca. “I did have conversations with him about that, and when he saw it, he was pro it.” Jenny describes the elements of darkness, combined with a soulful ending, as the perfect escapism for now. As the U.K. faces a second lockdown, “we all need to live in this play for two hours,” she says with a laugh—“the cast as well as the audience.” —Carol Woolton