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 â€œWords, Words, Wordsâ€ which I had compiled for the previous yearâ€™s Festival. It had included a long stretch of â€œRichard IIâ€ 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 â€œMacbethâ€, â€œRomeo and Julietâ€ and â€œThe Winterâ€™s Taleâ€ and began to see that another, more specialised, show might be built around speeches with which I was already familiar â€” fun for me as well as for the sort of theatre-orientated audience who annually crowd into Scotlandâ€™s beautiful capital city.
An overall theme occurred to me â€“ 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 â€“ â€œAll the Worldâ€™s a Stageâ€ would do for starters and Hamletâ€™s advice to the players and his speech on acting and Macbethâ€™s elegy for â€œthe poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stageâ€. 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 â€œActing Shakespeareâ€ (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. â€” Ian McKellen, June 2001