When his young wife died, Robert Richardson decided to honour her memory and to cope with his grief at the disused Wee Free chapel of St Paul's, which stands in the Isle of Dogs, that bulge of docklands in East London that is surrounded by the great curve of the Thames as it flows by Limehouse (where I live) and Greenwich (where Queen Elizabeth 1 was born and where Mean Time is calculated). St Paul's Arts Centre is The Space and beautiful it is. It looks ecclesiastical from the street, still surrounded by the houses where its original congregation lived. The docks have declined and the sailors who worshipped there have departed. Now the middle-classes have built their riverside palaces including one with a helipad from which Robert De Niro oversees his nearby restaurant.
The less advantaged residents of the Isle of Dogs have had few local amenities and The Space is a beacon of artistic endeavour among the towering businesses that crowd into Canary Wharf. Inside the Space is just that, an empty space to gladden the heart of Peter Brook and other theatrefolk.
Plays are performed there and much music: jazz and classical and hip hop. Films are screened. Marriages are celebrated — it's always party time at The Space, and in the splendid restaurant at the back it's home-made food all day long.
At its inception I did a version of A Knight Out but when Robert and Ali his successor as director of events came to see Dance of Death and typically brought a few friends and some champagne, the least I could do was return the compliment - hence "An Audience With..." a title that allowed me to do whatever seemed right on the night.
It was a packed and jolly audience and basically we chatted. There were questions and answers. I read from The Lord of the Rings about Hobbiton and the Mines of Moria. A couple of Shakespeare soliloquies and courtesy of Brian Sibley I distributed his books to the youngsters sitting on the stage with me. I also brought along some Tolkien memorabilia including the keys to Bag End. — Ian McKellen, London, May 2003