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Janet Suzman and Patricia Hodge lament ‘declining audience intelligence’

Janet Suzman (left) in Solomon and Marion at The Print Room and Patricia Hodge (right) in Relative Values at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Photos: Ruphin Coudyzer/Tristram Kenton
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Janet Suzman and Patricia Hodge have joined Tom Stoppard in claiming that theatre audiences have become less intelligent.

The actors were responding to recent remarks made by Stoppard, who claimed he had to dumb down his newest play because people did not understand it.

Speaking to The Stage, Suzman said people who attend theatre are “not as well-educated” as they used to be, and blamed poor teaching in schools.

She said: “People don’t understand references, literary and historical references anymore. People’s education is not as wide – except in specialist subjects [where their knowledge can be] very impressive. But as a general rule, people’s ability to access their own literary past is minimal.”

As reported in the Telegraph, Stoppard revealed he made several edits to The Hard Problem after preview audiences failed to understand certain jokes.

“So in the end, bit by bit, by preview four, the audience made the connection,” he explained. “And I must say that I was completely wrong [in assuming the audience would understand it] and I really resent it.”

He also said: “It’s very rare to connect with an audience except on a level which is lower than you would want to connect them on. You could raise it a notch and you might lose an eighth of them.”

Hodge told The Stage there was “a huge amount of truth” in Stoppard’s claims.

Highlighting the lack of classic plays in the West End, she asked: “What are we doing? They’re putting musicals into playhouses. People’s attention spans are not the same, they’re not being cultivated into the language [of theatre] in the way that we once were. And so they don’t hear.”

Suzman and Hodge were speaking at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art at the launch of the schools new £28 million redevelopment.

A new building on the LAMDA campus will house a 200-seat theatre and a flexible 120-seat studio space, in addition to a film and audio editing suite, 10 rehearsal studios and a new library and study centre.

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