Acting on the stage can be very different to acting for film or television. Stage actors are required to have a very different skill set, because they need to be able to get their lines right the first time. Those who are performing on stage also normally need to be involved in a whole “run” of shows, and will therefore have to perform the play multiple times over the course of a few months. They must also be brave enough to perform in front of a live audience who will be reacting to their performance. However, it is possible for actors to enjoy success on both stage and screen.So let’s look at a selection of Britain’s best known stage actors:
Sir Ian McKellen
Despite having enjoyed global success in films such as The Lord of the Rings and the X-Men franchise, Sir Ian McKellen still enjoys returning to the theatre to perform on stage. He initially made his name in the London theatre scene during the 1960s and he still tries to do at least one stage production per year. In 1991, he was knighted for services to the performing arts.
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench became well-known in the British theatre scene during the late 1950’s. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and toured the country performing in critically acclaimed productions. She started to appear in film and television roles in the late 1960’s and has appeared in a number of hugely successful films, including the James Bond franchise. Unfortunately, Judi is no longer able to perform in theatres as often as she would like to, due to her age. However, she was able to appear in a short run of The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse. This fascinating play, which portrayed a polling station during the 2015 General Election, was also filmed and shown live on More4 during the real election night. It was the first ever performance to be broadcast at the exact moment that the play was set!
Sir Patrick Stewart
Sir Patrick Stewart is also a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, alongside his good friend, Sir Ian McKellen. The two have actually appeared in a number of productions with one another and remain friends outside of the performance space.
Patrick Stewart became internationally famous when he won a role as Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. Despite accruing large amounts of wealth during his time on the show, he realised that he missed acting on the stage. He actually ended up writing and performing one man shows at universities in California, so that he was able to fit these in around his scheduled filming breaks.
Over the years, Sir Patrick Stewart has won countless awards for his stage roles. In 2010, he was knighted for his contributions to British drama.
Dame Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith, who is best known to younger generations for portraying Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series, began her stage career in England in 1952. Within a few years, she had landed roles in the West End and on Broadway. She has also appeared in film and television roles for the last six decades. Despite her age, Maggie Smith has continued to return to theatrical work and is pleased to support a number of theatrical and dramatic charities which support the performing arts. After the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand, Maggie Smith helped to raise funds to rebuild the Court Theatre in Christchurch, which had been destroyed completely.
Despite being one of the most recognisable young British film actors, Daniel Radcliffe enjoys performing roles live at the theatre. His early theatrical roles were carefully scrutinised by the critics amid accusations of stunt casting, however Daniel proved that he was able to produce good performances on stage as well. Although he is not as well established as some of the previous Shakespearean actors who are mentioned above, Daniel Radcliffe can be forgiven. Most Shakespearean actors graduate from stage to screen, whereas Daniel spent most of his formative acting years playing the same role in the Harry Potter films. He has since said that he hopes to develop his stage acting skills by appearing in a wide range of different theatrical roles.