From Shakespeare with commentary by Ian McKellen

St. Cecilia's Hall, Edinburgh

28 August 1977


Words from Ian McKellen

In 1977, I was invited back to Edinburgh with a reprise of my solo anthology “Words, Words, Words” which I had compiled for the previous year’s Festival. It had included a long stretch of “Richard II” and some chat about Shakespeare and acting. At the Royal Shakespeare Company I had spent a long season puzzling over how to act Shakespeare in “Macbeth”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Winter’s Tale” and began to see that another, more specialised, show might be built around speeches with which I was already familiar — fun for me as well as for the sort of theatre-orientated audience who annually crowd into Scotland’s beautiful capital city.

An overall theme occurred to me – that side of Shakespeare that was to do with acting. Not Shakespeare the National Poet or Philosopher; but Shakespeare the theatre-struck boy who left home for London where he acted and wrote and produced his 37 plays. The speeches I chose were all to do with this theatre theme – “All the World’s a Stage” would do for starters and Hamlet’s advice to the players and his speech on acting and Macbeth’s elegy for “the poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage”. So many to choose from. I would confide how an actor copes with the dense language and point out what is helpful about its rhythms and structure. There would be something about the idiosyncracies of Elizabethan theatres for which the plays were imagined and gossip about Shakespeare actors through the ages. And all this on an empty stage with just a chair for support. So “Acting Shakespeare” (a concise title which I am still pleased with) was first performed at 3pm and 8pm to full houses in the little lecture hall and to enough enthusiasm for me to realise that I had landed on the makings of a personal entertainment that might be developed in the future. — Ian McKellen, June 2001

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