It’s often noticed how those in the top jobs of British theatre routinely hail from Oxbridge; the current artistic director of the National Theatre Nick Hytner and each of his three predecessors Peter Hall, Richard Eyre and Trevor Nunn all went to Cambridge.
The same, of course, is true of my own tribe, namely theatre critics: as I previously noticed a few years ago on one first night of a play set in an Oxbridge college, over half of those of 14 of us seated on the centre aisle that night went to Oxbridge ourselves.
Some of those I named are no longer reviewing (Benedict Nightingale, Alistair Macaulay and the late Sheridan Morley), but they’ve merely been replaced by others who did go to Oxbridge - Libby Purves, Ian Shuttleworth (who shares the first string role with Sarah Hemming) and Simon Edge (who shares first night responsibilities with Julie Carpenter).
Perusing the programme for the Donmar Warehouse’s new production of Richard II on Tuesday night, I noticed another interesting fact: that of the cast of 15, five are RADA trained, 2 from Bristol Old Vic and 2 from Guildhall. (There’s also a graduate from LAMDA and another from Mountview).
That does, of course, confirm the worth of such training; but then the exceptions, as always, also prove the rule: Michael Grandage, whose final production at the helm of the Donmar Warehouse this was, didn’t go to Oxbridge (but did go to drama school, in his case Central, where he originally trained as an actor) and Eddie Redmayne, who played the title role, didn’t go to drama school (but did go to Cambridge!).
But the bigger picture is that the best schools still often lead to the best opportunities. And perhaps it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: they get the best students, so it’s only understandable that those are then the ones who go on to achieve. As one person wrote on Twitter, “Good schools attract the best pupils & then stretch them as much as possible. That’s why I’m grateful to Oxford.”
And another posed the question, “Why do you think it’s surprising that 9 members of the cast are graduates of 3 of the UK’s top drama schools?” But it doesn’t mean it’s a closed shop, though one casting director wondered aloud if it was: “I would love to know how many actors are seen for plays who are not trained by these institutions? It’s the same with musical theatre sometimes.” And an actor also asked: “Personally feel its a bit of a clique. Can’t get seen to save my life at my favourite theatre.”
On the other hand, another aspiring director replied, “The exceptions are the ones that inspire me! I could never have gotten into Oxbridge, but I won’t let that stop me!” That’s more like it: yes, you’re ahead of the game if you’ve been there, but then you started ahead by going there in the first place. But it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically excluded by not doing so.