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So what does it mean to be old?

The drama of stage and screen is one of the places we have traditionally gone to for answers to this sort of question. Theatre plays, sit-coms and soaps are full of images of the elderly - sometimes affectionate, sometimes contemptuous - that explore this subject. But what about the people who embody those images?

Slippered Pantaloons explores how actors come to terms with ageing, and draws parallels with how old age is portrayed on stage and screen. From characters like Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave via our favourite matriarchal soap opera figures to the deep and flawed characters of Shakespeare. Are there enough of these great characters and do they really reflect our aging demographic?

As a culture we are only just beginning to take serious notice of ageing. In England and Wales alone, census figures show that between 1900 and 1950, the number of centenarians receiving the traditional telegram from the monarch held fairly steady at under 400. By the 2001 census, this had risen to nearly 9000. By 2025, there are expected to be 1.2 billion people aged 60 or over worldwide. Are they visible in the plays being written and performed today?

Along with the physicality of performance, no artist is as conscious of the ageing process, no artist makes us as conscious of the ageing process, as the actor whose body itself displays, hides or imitates the ineluctable signs of youth or age.

So what does it mean to be old - for actors and the parts they play?

Presenter: Simon Fanshawe

Producer: Rob Alexander
A Pier Production for BBC Radio 4.

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