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Why battles over race and sex now take centre stage at UK drama schools

Sunday 17th October 2021

Britain has long been seen as a crucible of performing excellence, but new issues have come to the fore in our stage schools. Are centuries of stagecraft about to be sacrificed?

Dame Eileen Atkins, that great performer, is a forward-thinker. At 87 she remains open to changes in the world around her. Those changes have seen her established as “a grand lady of the British stage”, despite having started out in Tottenham as the tap-dancing “Baby Eileen”. More recently, she has become “an actor”, just like the lads.

Yet in her new memoir Will She Do?, Atkins takes a moment, amid the funny theatrical anecdotes, to mourn the loss of training in core acting skills at Britain’s leading drama schools. Aware that she may sound like a fuddy-duddy, she says: “I know the acting style has changed, but I am both sad and ashamed that actors are mic’d now, even in our smallest theatres. When did drama schools stop teaching students how to throw their voice to the back of the stalls and be natural at the same time? It is possible.”

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