Judi Dench: TV culture produces actors with ‘no kind of discipline’

Judi Dench. Photo: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock
Judi Dench. Photo: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock
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Actors including Imelda Staunton, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and Steven Berkoff claim the demise of rep means young actors miss vital training.

Arguing that young actors want to “get on to the TV”, Berkoff said: “I have felt a loss. Where are the Albert Finneys, the O’Tooles, where are the Laurence Oliviers, the Paul Scofields? They ain’t there, mate. These actors do not exist today.”

The comments were made in The Actor’s Apprenticeship, a documentary by actor Luke Dale that looks at the demise of rep and its impact on the acting industry.

Berkoff’s remarks were backed up by other performers, who warned that the lack of a repertory system, where actors learned and performed multiple plays at any one time throughout a season, meant that there was no training ground for graduate actors to hone their technique.

Television gives young actors too much exposure too early in their careers, Dench said. “I think with television and shows like Britain’s Got Talent, young actors want to make some kind of instant impression, to be instantly recognised. What worries me about that is what happens after that? What happens to them with no kind of training or no kind of discipline behind them?”

“It’s all very well being at drama school and giving your end-of-term shows, but you have to then learn to make mistakes, you have to then learn what it is to play to different sizes of theatre, you have to somehow sharpen up your act,” she added.

Her comments were supported by Jacobi and Staunton. Jacobi said: “We were allowed to fail, to make mistakes because, in a sense, there weren’t a great many people watching [in repertory theatre].”

Staunton explained: “None of us set out to be bad in repertory theatre but you weren’t exposed to the extent that some young actors are now.”

The demise of rep has made it more difficult for actors, Jacobi argued in the documentary. “I don’t know how a young actor today with ambitions for stage, I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know what journey you have to make,” he said.

However, Staunton argued that things are “a lot better” for young actors today: “Someone leaving drama school now can go to rep – not many – they can go to television, they can go to radio, they can go to film. There are many options.”

Last year, Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre announced it would revive its repertory company for the first time in 25 years. Northern Rep revealed plans to bring rep back to Manchester earlier this year, with Chester’s Storyhouse following suit.

Hordern Ciani theatre company will bring a repertory company to Swanage over the summer, while Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake has an annual repertory company for its summer season.

The Actor’s Apprenticeship will be released online later this year.

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