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. Paul’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 Burton’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 – 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 – “I agree with everything this says”. 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 he’d finished he asked “Where is our Tullus?”. John Neville looked straight at me – 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 – the ryhthmic similarity with “First Citizen” had been mis-interpreted by my agent over the phone.
Next day I picked up the book from which Guthrie had read the essay – “ A new printing of Coriolanus with short introduction by Sir Tyrone Guthrie”. Recognising my nervousness and inexperience, he suggested that he and I should rehearse Aufidius’s solo speeches in private session: “then when we’ve got them right, we can surprise the rest of the cast”. Typical of his treating each actor according to his needs. He particularly favoured young actors and was mockingly disrespectful of the older ones – “Stop it Leo McKern, I can see what you are doing, trying to upstage everyone!”