Epic South African/British actress Dame Janet Suzman, DBE was born on 9th February 1939 in Johannesburg to a Jewish family, the daughter of Betty (née Sonnenberg) and Saul Suzman, a wealthy tobacco importer. She had a enjoyed a successful long term career in the Royal Shakespeare Company and has played many Shakespearean roles in the movies and TV. She was married to director Trevor Nunn in 1969 but the marriage ended in divorce in 1986; they have one son, Joshua
She attended the independent school Kingsmead College, Johannesburg, and later advanced to the University of the Witwatersrand, where she studied English and French. In 1959, she moved to London where she underwent training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and then made her debut as Liz in Billy Liar at the Tower Theatre, Ipswich, in 1962.
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Janet began her career with Royal Shakespeare Company in 1963 by starring in the film, Nicholas and Alexandra where she played the role of Empress Alexandra which brought her several honours, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
|Janet in Nicholas and Alexandra|
She has also made few films with the best-known being Don Siegel’s “The Black Windmill” in 1974, Nijinsky in 1980, The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), A Dry White Season (1989) with Marlon Brando and Nuns on the Run in 1990.
As a director, she directed Othello in her native South Africa 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 also wrote, starred in and directed her modern adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard – a South African response entitled The Free Stat with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
She returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2002 to perform in a new version of The Hollow Crown with Sir Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson and Sir Derek Jacobi and in 2005 she appeared in the West End in a revival of Brian Clark’s 1978 play “Whose Life Is It Anyway”? In 2006 she directed Hamlet and played Volumnia in Coriolanus in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2007, for which she received excellent notices.
In 2010 she made an appearance in a new South African play, at the Finborough Theatre, London, titled Dream of the Dog, which subsequently transferred to the West End.
Janet was the author of Acting With Shakespeare: Three Comedies, a book based on a series of acting master classes.
She has handled some strategic and honorable positions as follows:
- in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to drama, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)
- She also holds Honorary D.Litt. degrees from the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, London (QMW), Southampton, Middlesex, Kingston, Cape Town University Edge Hill University and Buckingham University.
- She is equally an Honorary Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, and was awarded the Pragnell Award for lifetime services to Shakespeare in 2012.
- She is a patron of the London International Festival of Theatre.
Some of Janet’s recent movies include:
- Tinga Tinga Tales a TV series in 2011.
- Sinbad (TV series) in 2012
- Moominland Tales: The Life of Tove Jansson (TV film) also in 2012.
- In 2013 Felix where she starred as Mrs Cartwrigh.