The rise of "estuary English" is threatening the quality of British drama by creating actors without the versatility to perform classical roles, a leading voice coach said yesterday.
Patsy Rodenburg, who has trained generations of performers, said some texts could be expressed only in received pronunciation (RP) yet it was often not taught in drama schools because it was seen as "posh".
She said: "I have worked with writers who have had to rewrite sections of plays in another accent because the actors can't do it in received pronunciation." And she had seen several stars lose roles because they appeared unable to act in RP, the classic "cut-glass" accent.
For generations of actors, RP was the goal. But with the rise of "kitchen sink" drama in the 1960s and working-class actors such as Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, regional accents became accepted and even preferred.
But Ms Rodenberg said: "What we need is actors who can act organically in a wide range of accents. Schools should not indulge in reverse snobbishness and neglect RP as part of a wide training."
Michael Boyd, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has introduced intense verse-speaking training because drama schools now have to teach for radio, television and voice-overs as well.
"I would not pretend RP is not a vital part of the armoury of any actor," Mr Boyd said. "But to suggest you can't rise to large thought, great emotion or great soul without it is crazy. And it is increasingly old-fashioned; it connotes shrinking empire and the 1950s. It is losing currency as the language or power."
Suzan Harrison, producer of a new ITV adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays, said they had to cut scenes where their child actors lapse into the Australian intonation of rising sentences. Stephen Fry, the star, objected, but some were kept because they seemed more real. "It is how children explain themselves today," she said.
Good actors could drop into any accent, she added. "It's like having an ear for music. Some people can do it and some can't."Reuse content