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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'