ACTING SHAKESPEARE (Globe Benefit)
From Shakespeare with commentary by Ian McKellen
Broadhurst Theatre, New York
26 April 1981
Words from Ian McKellen
During the run of “Amadeus” on Broadway, Sam Wanamaker asked for my help. Since, as a schoolboy, seeing him as Iago to Paul Robeson‘s Othello at Stratford-upon-Avon, I had been an admirer. The two of them were in the United Kingdom as a refuge from the McCarthy era when both had contravened the ethics of the UnAmerican Activities Committee by supporting left-wing organisations back home. Sam settled in London with his family. His daughter Zoe Wanamaker played Emilia brilliantly when I was Iago, also at Stratford (1989). But back in 1981 he wanted me to help him raise money and awareness for the Globe Theatre which he had plans to build close to the site of Shakespeare’s original theatre of the same name on the south bank of the river Thames in London. He showed me the designs which, before they changed, were not for a working theatre but a slightly undersized auditorium, unfitted for performances and more of a museum to display the virtues of Elizabethan open-air playhouses.
I was long a supporter of the 20th century’s discovery that an open stage is what suits Shakespeare best – no scenery or lighting other than daylight and minimal costuming – the emphasis thrown back on the dramatist’s words. A theatre for an audience who listen rather than for spectators or viwers who had best stick with football matches and the television. This was the sort of comment with which I stuffed my solo show “Acting Shakespeare”, which Sam had heard about, although he probably hadn’t caught its few UK performances before its extended European tour immediately before “Amadeus”. He thought that the US premiere of a show devoted to Shakespeare from an acting point-of-view, would attract an enthusiastic audience who would also contribute hefty funds to his Globe enterprise. His patron Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco agreed to attend.
It was a fun evening and the rich crowd listened respectfully to my trot through some of Shakespeare’s best-known soliloquies and laughed knowingly at the jokes which I scattered amongst the intervening commentary. Afterwards I dined next to Princess Grace who was clad in light green suede and we discussed the Edinburgh Festival: my show had started there at the St. Cecilia’s Hall (1977), where she had also performed with a recital of favourite poetry “American Heritage”. — Ian McKellen, June 2001