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More than just Shakespeare

Razia Iqbal | 16:27 UK time, Friday, 13 February 2009

anthony_sher_226bbc.jpgSir Antony Sher, who this week will appear on stage as Prospero in an African production of the Tempest in Stratford-upon-Avon (with the brilliant South African actor, John Kani as Caliban), has spoken out about the future of theatre.

He says that young people coming out of drama school don't want to go into theatre, but hope instead for fame and fortune in television or cinema. If this is not countered, he asks if this might not spell the end of theatre.

There may well be some truth in this, given our culture's general obsession with fame and celebrity. And there is also something in the belief that there is a reluctance among young people to embrace Shakespeare in the way that Sher's generation of actors actively wanted to work through Shakespeare's plays.

But I wonder if he has reason to be quite so despondent. I know young people who love being on the stage for its own sake: for the experience of it; the camaraderie; the working in a co-operative way, just for the sheer fun of it.

I went to see an amateur production recently of the Just So stories, put on by the Hinchley Manor Operatic Society. The entire cast was made up of young people and the production was joyful and full of energy. OK, it was musical theatre, and not Shakespeare, but it is hard to kick the habit of loving being on stage and being involved with a group of people who love the same thing.

As for Shakespeare, David Tennant playing Hamlet did inspire the young people I met at Stratford, some as young as 12 and 13, who had never been to see a Shakespeare play before.

So while that may make some young people give Shakespeare the time of day once more, the key, which Sir Antony touches on this in his BBC interview, is what students coming out of drama school do.

It is possible to look at great Shakespearean actors inspiring the next generation; you only have to look at the baton being passed from the likes of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Judi Dench to Simon Russell Beale, Mark Rylance, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julie Stevenson and Fiona Shaw. And they in turn will be inspiring those in drama school now.

I see many examples of young people being keen on theatre. Indeed, it could be argued, and drama students up and down the country would say that the very act of going to drama school is not a quick step to fame and celebrity. Theatre for young people has to be about much more than just Shakespeare doesn't it?


  • Comment number 1.

    Mr. Sher's comments are understood, but the negative perspective on the matter isn't helping make a difference. It is a fact that movies and media are a prevalent and affordable story-telling medium, as well as occurring as glamorous. The fame and fortune aspect is alluring, but movies and media are simply part of our modern lives. To bemoan it is a waste of energy. There are people who do a good job of accepting what's so and then get on with making a solution. When you see brilliant story-tellers like Dame Judi Dench being interviewed about her James Bond work, she notes how she makes it a mission to hopefully use it to interest young people into the theatres. THAT feels like just the right tactic. She's using the tools she has at her disposal and then putting her all into it to help reignite interest in the theatre. Her positive attitude and approach is EXACTLY the thing that inspires (but she's amazing like that)!! Mr. Sher's concerns just seem to add negativity to the the problem, but aren't actually doing anything to work on it, change it, or even look at the places and moments where it IS this article notes, thankfully!

  • Comment number 2.

    I love Sir Antony Sher's work. That I have seen at least.

    I note "The History Man" is being repeated on a BBC channel (shown partly is it? - One Hour and a half?)

    I still remember it - so will not need to tune in but it is recommended viewing just for the fact the TV screen is often too small a canvas for Sir Antony's work. Scene chewing of a first class kind.

    1968 was my only Stratford Upon Avon theatre going experience. I could afford just one play.

  • Comment number 3.

    Antony Sher makes a point... but there are lots of factors to consider in this argument.

    As a graduating drama school student, primarily trained in theatre I would like nothing more than to embark on a succesful theatre career. but the recurring fact that in this day and age, and with such low equity rates for performers particularly in the west end, one has to consider the fact that it is very expensive to live in London, and unless you are a 'name' in a show you are going to be on basic rates, making it very hard to earn a decent living and infact make a living at all.

    Take television however. you can potentially earn in one episode what most performers in theatre earn in a year, depending on the role.

    In commercials, depending how big the company/commercial, you can expect a rather large payout for such a short time's work. i have just completed a commercial for a company where i earned above 5k for 2 days work including buyouts etc

    So weigh up the circumstances. What would you rather do?

    I know you aren't supposed to do it for the money, you're supposed to do it for the love of performing, and there's no better buzz than a live audience to perform to, but in this day and age, and considering the current economical climate, if you're offered tv and commercial work over theatre, any sensible performer with a business head is going to take that!

  • Comment number 4.

    I remember when it was announced that David Tennant was doing Hamlet; one comment I frequently heard was along the lines of here was another t.v. actor trying to get into theatre. Wrong, here was a theatre actor who had success in t.v., and was going back to what he loved best -the theatre. The fact that he was able to parlay his t.v. success and inspire a generation of kids to see Shakespeare is a tremendous credit to him and Patrick Stewart, and all those who remain true to their roots and use their fame to further the love of theatre in us all.

  • Comment number 5.

    I caught the end of the History Man and loved the memory of what an odious man Kirk was confirmed. Professor?

    If he was a role model and could attract the women characters in the cast - maybe I should behave a little more unkindly?

    But I do not exactly recall what happens to Antony's character at the end of this series. Something bad I pray. lol

    No offence Sir Antony. South African - eh? Respect.

    Isla Blair. Wow!


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