Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tyrone Guthrie
Ian McKellen in the role of Tullus Aufidius
Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
12 December 1963 - 1 January 1964
Words from Ian McKellen
We rehearsed initially in the City of London, close to St. Paulâ€™s cathedral, where I met the cast for the first time. It was impressive that there were famous actors in the company - Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey), June Ritchie (A Kind of Loving), Dorothy Reynolds (lyricist of Salad Days} as well as John Neville (Richard Burtonâ€™s acting rival at the Old Vic) and my colleague from Ipswich, John Cairncross, who had recommended me to Neville.
Tyrone Guthrie was the biggest star of all â€“ the leading director of Shakespeare worldwide, who had initiated the theatres in Stratford Ontario and Minneapolis. He had a bad cold throughout the rehearsals, wrapt in a long woollen scarf and heavy overcoat, healing potions ministered by his wife. He began by putting us in a circle of hard chairs and reading out the introduction to an American edition of Coriolanus â€“ â€œI agree with everything this saysâ€. The short essay surmised that the play centred on the love/hate relationship between Caius Martius and his enemy on the battlefield Tullus Aufidius. When heâ€™d finished he asked â€œWhere is our Tullus?â€. John Neville looked straight at me â€“ I had been cast as First Citizen ( a good part which opened act one scene one and most recently played by Albert Finney in the Olivier Coriolanus at Stratford-upon-Avon). There was a moment of bafflement until it was explained that I was Tullus Aufidius â€“ the ryhthmic similarity with â€œFirst Citizenâ€ had been mis-interpreted by my agent over the phone.
Next day I picked up the book from which Guthrie had read the essay â€“ â€œ A new printing of Coriolanus with short introduction by Sir Tyrone Guthrieâ€. Recognising my nervousness and inexperience, he suggested that he and I should rehearse Aufidiusâ€™s solo speeches in private session: â€œthen when weâ€™ve got them right, we can surprise the rest of the castâ€. Typical of his treating each actor according to his needs. He particularly favoured young actors and was mockingly disrespectful of the older ones â€“ â€œStop it Leo McKern, I can see what you are doing, trying to upstage everyone!â€