Janet Suzman

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Janet Suzman [1]. (1939-). Internationally renowned actress, director and playwright.


Born in South Africa 9 February 1939. She was married to British director Trevor Nunn [2]. They have one son, Joshua. The influential theatrical figure Cecilia Sonnenberg and the redoubtable politician Helen Suzman [3] were her aunts.


She studied at the University of the Witwatersrand and at London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art in England.


Her first stage appearance was in Ipswich on 30 April 1962 in Billy Liar, and in the same year she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for The Wars of the Roses, becoming a highly regarded member of the ensemble. Her vast canon of work over the years has been lauded in London and internationally.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

As a student she played Calpurnia in Julius Caesar, directed by John Boulter for the Wits University Players in 1957.

Her association with South African theatre came through her close involvement as patron ans supporter of the Market Theatre and her association with its directors Barney Simon and Mannie Manim. She appeared in the 1974 fund raising production for The Company and the opening production of the Market Theatre (1976), then – because she strongly supported the cultural boycott - she only returned to the country a decade later, when changes had begun to occur. She directed Othello with John Kani, Richard Haines and Joanna Weinberg at the Market in 1986. In 2005 she returned once more to direct Hamlet for The Baxter Theatre and the National Arts Festival (with Rajesh Gopie, John Kani and Dorothy-Ann Gould).

As dramatist she has written and directed South Africanised versions of Brecht’s The Good Person of Sezuan (entitled The Good Woman of Sharkville) and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (entitled The Free State) in 1998.

She starred in Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye in London opposite British actor Ben Kingsley. She starred in Pleasure and Repentance, a fund-raising show for the Market Theatre on 4 January 1976. Barney Simon directed and the cast also starred Ron Smerczak, Keith Blundell and Michael McCabe. She starred in Barney Simon’s production of Edward Albee’s The Death of Bessie Smith together with John Kani and Winston Ntshona at the Market Theatre in 1979. She directed The Good Woman of Sharkville which was adapted by herself and Gcina Mhlope at the Market Theatre in July 1996. Her production of Othello was staged at the Market on 16 September 1987.

Awards, etc

Winner of numerous awards, including two Evening Standard Best Actress Awards in Britain. She has received honorary D.Litt degrees from a number of British universities.


Tucker, 1997.

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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