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You cannot undertake love


'The older you get, the more you know about life'
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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As I get older the only thing I think does happen is that as I do less and less work in the theatre, which... I mean, the whole point about theatrical work, and I suppose the same would’ve gone for the scientific work, is that you have an obligation to go in at a certain time, you then meet a lot of people and you work with them the whole day and you, you know, have a drink with them and go out, and then you take a rest and get up the next morning with an appointment at 9:30 or 10 o’clock to do some more.  Well, as my theatrical engagements diminish because I’m no longer, you know, what they call cutting edge, I don’t get asked to do things as often as I used to and therefore I have long periods of depressed idleness and I wonder well, what ought I to be doing?

So I keep trying to do some of this work and I try to write but, again, I get blocked as well. I haven’t written anything, sort of, coherent and serious for quite a long while, nor have I done much of this artwork, so I’m in a, sort of, rather curious, sort of, desert period at the moment.

I mean, I… it isn’t that I like the theatre that much but at least there’s a reason to get up in the morning, because you’ve got a lot of people waiting for you to come up with ideas. And then the few things I’ve done in the last few months I find myself pleased to be going and starting work and then I find within about ten minutes that I’m inventing with exactly the same vigour and imagination and intelligence that I did... perhaps even more than I did, say, 30 or 40 years ago when I first began doing it. I know so much now.

I mean, there are some people who, when they work in the theatre, keep on repeating what they always did, but I know from the things I’ve done in the last three or four months, they’ve been some of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I did a production of Hamlet about three or four months ago, and judging by the, for once, almost unanimously favourable criticisms, I realised I'd turned the play on its head and made people think about it for the first time as if they’d never seen it before.

But that’s because, as I say, if you keep your wits about you the older you get the more you know about life and you’ve seen a huge variety of things horizontally and then vertically over the passage of time.  You’ve seen so much more... you’ve seen everything that goes from youth to old age.

So that in that way I slightly resent and am disappointed at the fact that I don’t get used more often in the theatre, notwithstanding the fact that I wonder there’s anything worth doing in the theatre. But every now and then when I get doing it I find, well, I can do it probably as well, if not better, than most of my younger colleagues.

Jonathan Miller (1934-2019) was a British theatre and opera director. Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of The Merchant of Venice starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of Rigoletto.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Hamlet

Duration: 3 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 16 August 2011