1623 patron Dame Janet Suzman and artistic director Ben Spiller

"1623 is one of those rare companies that invests in artists, audiences and participants equally through a diverse programme that has Shakespeare - the greatest humanitarian - at its heart.

I am honoured to be a patron and I look forward to seeing how the company grows to engage more people with Shakespeare in exciting new ways." 

: Dame Janet Suzman

To listen to Dame Janet in conversation with our artistic director Ben Spiller, click here.

After training for the stage at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Janet Suzman made her debut as Liz in Billy Liar at the Tower Theatre, Ipswich in 1962. She then became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1963 and started her career there as Joan of Arc in The Wars of The Roses (1962–64). The RSC gave her the opportunity to play many of the Shakespearean heroines, including Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Ophelia in Hamlet, Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It, Lavinia in Titus Andronicus and her Cleopatra, magisterial, ardent and seductive, in 1973, about which critics raved, and which is said to be a definitive performance. Her Cleopatra was captured on film. Although her stage appearances have tended to run naturally towards Shakespeare and the classics, including Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Chekhov's The Three Sisters, Marlowe, Racine, Gorky, Brecht, she has also appeared in plays by Genet, Pinter, Ronald Harwood, Nicholson, Albee and others.

She appeared in many British television drama productions in the 1960s and early 1970s, including Saint Joan (1968), The Three Sisters (1970), Macbeth (1970), Hedda Gabler (1972), Twelfth Night (1973), as Lady Mountbatten in Lord Mountbatten - The Last Viceroy (1985) and Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (1986). Her first film role was in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for her portrayal of the Empress Alexandra. This was followed by A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972) opposite Alan Bates. There is also a television version of her Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1974) with Richard Johnson as Antony. She also appeared as "Frosine" in the BBC's Theatre Night 1988 production of The Miser opposite Nigel Hawthorne as "Harpagon" and Jim Broadbent as "Maitre Jacques". Another role was that of Frieda Lawrence in Priest of Love (1981).

She has made a few films since, the best-known being Don Siegel's The Black Windmill (1974), Nijinsky (1980), Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), Federico Fellini's E la Nave Va (And the Ship Sails On (1983), A Dry White Season (1989) with Marlon Brando and Nuns on the Run (1990; a rare comedic role).

Back in her native South Africa, she has directed Othello, which was also televised, and Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan (renamed The Good Woman of Sharpeville) both at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. She has also recently toured her modern adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard - a South African response entitled The Free State. She wrote, starred in and directed this piece with Birmingham REP. Other productions with Suzman as director include A Dream of People at the RSC, The Cruel Grasp at the Edinburgh Festival, Feydeau's No Flies on Mr Hunter (Chelsea Centre, 1992); Death of a Salesman (Theatr Clywd, 1993); and Pam Gems's The Snow Palace (Tour and Tricycle Theatre, 1998).

In 2002 she returned to the RSC to perform in a new version of The Hollow Crown with Sir Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson and Sir Derek Jacobi. In 2005, she appeared in the West End in a revival of Brian Clark's 1978 play Whose Life Is It Anyway? starring Kim Cattrall. In 2006, she directed Hamlet and in 2007 she played Volumnia in Coriolanus in Stratford-upon-Avon for which she received excellent reviews. In 2010 she appeared in Dream of the Dog, a new South African play, at the Finborough Theatre, London, which subsequently transferred to the West End. Suzman authored Acting With Shakespeare: Three Comedies, a book based on a series of acting master classes.

Recent roles include Marion in Marion and Solomon (2016, Birmingham REP and tour) and the title part in Rose (2017, Manchester HOME).

Suzman was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to drama. Her aunt, Helen Suzman, was appointed Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1989 for her anti-apartheid activism.

Janet Suzman holds Honorary D.Litt. degrees from the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, London (QMW), Southampton, Middlesex, Kingston, Cape Town University and Buckingham University. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, and was awarded the Pragnell Award for lifetime services to Shakespeare in 2012. 


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