When the Queen’s Birthday Honour list was announced in early June, a familiar North Shore Name was among those at the very top of the list. In the formal language of such announcements, there it was: To be a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit: HALL, Mr Roger Leighton, CNZM, QSO, for services to theatre.
Roger Hall is so well known as a leading New Zealand playwright that he scarcely needs introduction. Having started out ( after a teaching career) writing television scripts, he proceeded to skewer our middle-class foibles in stage plays from Glide Time and Middle Age Spread (the latter revived just last month at The PumpHouse Theatre by Tadpole Theatre, and still relevant after four decades with scarcely a word or character changed), through to The Share Club, Four Flat Whites in Italy, After the Crash, and Last Legs, in a collection of more than 40 plays that could also be said to chart progress through the decades of Roger and his generation.
But he’s not been all about funny plays with a strong dose of social commentary. He’s a writer of very funny pantomime, his first dramatic love (though this aspect to his craft is perhaps less evident here in the north where we lack a strong panto tradition), which he told Channel he can attribute to attending in London as a young child. His pantomime scripts were performed at Wellington’s Circa Theatre each Christmas for 10 years.
He is also a playwright with a commitment to the broader development of New Zealand theatre. Most recently, he almost single-handedly founded and organised (with Malcolm Calder) the inaugural New Zealand Theatre Month, launched in September 2018. He has served on numerous boards, including Fortune Theatre, Frank Sargeson Trust, New Zealand Literary Fund Advisory Committee, and Governor of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand from 2002 to 2010. In 1989, he organised the first New Zealand Writers’ Week in Dunedin, an event which still continues.
As well as plays, he has written many books for children, and extensively for television including one-off plays and more than 70 sitcom episodes in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom. His first stage plays, Glide Time and Middle Age Spread, written in the 1970s, were successful nationally and in Australia and Middle Age Spread’ ran in London’s West End for 15 months. Since then, he has written a stage play or musical every year, all of which have been performed by the country’s professional theatres, as well as numerous productions by community theatres.
Closer to home, he established the annual performance of a scene from North Shore playwright Bruce Mason’s play The End of the Golden Weather on Takapuna Beach each Christmas Day.
This latest accolade is but one of many Roger has received during his career. He was named Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as a playwright, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2003; the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal, and Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, in the New Year’s Honours list in 1987. Other awards include: the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement (Fiction) in 2015; the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Hackmann Awards in 2011; the Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Dunedin Theatre Awards in 2011; Best Script: Comedy, at the AFTA NZ Television Awards for Spin Doctors in 2003; and Best Script: Comedy, TV Guide Television Awards for Market Forces: Episode 4 in 1998; Comedy of the Year, Society of West End Theatres (London)for Middle Age Spread in 1979. He was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in 1997, was a Visiting Fulbright Professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC in 2003 and received an Hon. Doctorate of Literature from Victoria University in 1996.