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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern