Rhoda Koenig: Where are the stage's great voices?

Dame Judi is right: young actors are less willing to study and serve

Share
Related Topics

In her youth she was the greatest Lady Macbeth of her generation. Now, at 74, Dame Judi Dench puts one in mind of the name part in The Taming of the Shrew. Earlier this year she berated a reviewer for disliking her in Madame de Sade, saying, "I'm only sorry I didn't get a chance to kick you."

She has now denounced young actors as ignorant of the "fantastic heritage of theatre" in this country, uninterested in learning from their elders and caring only about quick success, in films rather than theatre.

Rupert Goold, 37, who recently directed the best Macbeth since the Trevor Nunn production in which Dench appeared in 1976, accused Dench of "a caution that strangles theatre". He says actors and directors are frustrated because "most of the audience is middle-aged, the critics are middle-aged." Young actors are also "physically better" than actors of the past.

Is this, then, a question of an old lioness resentfully snapping at a vigorous young cub? Some may think so, but those in a position to compare the work and attitudes of generations will not be impressed with Goold's case.

For one thing, youth is not often as youthful as it thinks. Last year Goold staged The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a play about Christianity full of profanity and comic anachronisms that took this middle-aged critic back to the old days when young audiences first squealed with excitement at such daring. The play was as silly and self-indulgent as its forebears, and Goold, like the directors busting a gut to be new decades ago, also came across as smug rather than shocking.

For another, Goold's actors may be fit, but he knows we come to the theatre to hear them speak, and he is old enough, even at his age, to know that standards have slipped. Rich, full voices are heard less and less on the stage, and many actors do not know their native tongue well enough to keep from mispronouncing words or speaking them with incomprehension. (When was the last time you heard a Romeo who knew that his beloved's name had two syllables, not three?) They do not know the history of their own country, much less of the theatre, and they are often puzzled and resentful when knowledge is expected of them. A director friend told me a few years ago that a young, talented actor, about to speak a line in which his character referred to Proust, asked, "Who's Proust?" What struck us was not just the actor's ignorance but his lack of any fear that he might be embarrassing himself by confessing it.

Young actors may have the ability of actors of the past, but they are less willing to study and serve. Yet, as Herr Klesmer tells the pretentious heroine of Daniel Deronda, greatness on the stage is possible only for those who are "framed to love perfection and to labour for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she – Art, my mistress – is worthy, and I will live to merit her." Such humility is not cultivated in our world of self-esteem and quick success – a success determined by money and fame. Dame Judi may be old, but her ideals are ageless.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears