Renowned actor Dame Janet Suzman today offered some words of advice to Edge Hill graduands from the Faculty of Arts and Science as she was made an Honorary Doctor of Arts.
“Never use jargon, always express your thoughts with clarity and with economy,” she said. “Be as eccentric as you care to be, don’t follow the sheep, don’t eat rubbish food, learn to cook and always be kind.”
She also advised them to look after the “fabulously beautiful, frail yet robust highly complex lonely planet of ours”.
She said: “We humanities graduates can use our talents to alarm the thoughtless or the cynical about the dangers of the earth’s changing climate. This hugely expressive language of ours can be a powerful tool to warn greedy profit gobblers and myopic short-termists that quick gains and amassed personal wealth are not worth the fatal costs to the fabric of this precious earth unless usefully deployed.”
Janet Suzman has remained one of the most respected classical stage actresses of her time. After her professional stage debut with Billy Liar in1962 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and received rave notices for her Joan of Arc in The War of the Roses. She made her official London debut in a production of A Comedy of Errors (1963). Janet built up an impressive classical resumé portraying most of Shakespeare’s illustrious heroines and also appeared in several BBC-TV versions of the classics.
In 1969 Janet married director Trevor Nunn and together they collaborated on some of England’s finest stage productions, notably Antony and Cleopatra (1972) Titus Andronicus (1972) and Hello and Goodbye (1973), which won Janet the Evening Standard award. She won a second for her role of Masha in the 1976 production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. Later work included notable roles in She Stoops to Conquer, The Good Woman of Setzuan and her Hedda Gabler.
In the early 1970s Janet branched out into films and, following an auspicious turn in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg she won the coveted role of Czarina Alexandra in the florid historical piece Nicholas and Ale, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, BAFTA and the Golden Globe. She went on to grace a number of films including Voyage on Demand (1976), Nijinsky (1980) and Priest of Love (1981).
In a reprise of her real life family’s activism, Suzman co-starred in the anti-apartheid film A Dry White Season (1989). In the 1980s Janet was inspired to direct and coach. She was a visiting professor of drama at Westfield College, London, and later returned to South Africa to provide multi-ethnic castings in versions of Shakespearean plays. In 2002 Janet returned to the RSC to perform in The Hollow Crown, and most recently appeared in a London production of Whose Life Is It Anyway? (2005) starring Kim Cattrall.
Suzman was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours, is an Honorary Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, and was awarded the Pragnell Award for lifetime services to Shakespeare in 2012.
She left this afternoon’s graduates with some thoughts about her own childhood and when she woke up to the “rude shock” of what, at that time, was “state supported prejudice”.
She said: “Racism, it is a scourge. It makes me angrier than anything else we humans get up to. White is not always particularly wonderful. Often quite the reverse. All racism is culturally acquired and it must be always firmly rejected, because, a little bit of you will dies inside every time you lack the courage to oppose it.”
She added: “I will always remember this day when you and I received our degrees from this proudly forward looking place of education. I wish you good luck in all you do.
“I can offer you no more than this. Just be useful, lead a useful life. And enjoy it.”