Ian McKellen Stage
Shallow (Ian McKellen) and Falstaff (Clive Swift)
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DEUTSCHES HAUS

HENRY IV PART 2 (Cambridge)

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by John Barton
Ian McKellen in the role of Justice Shallow
Cambridge Arts Theatre
10 March 1959 - 14 March 1959

Words from Ian McKellen

The Marlowe Society was founded by Justin Brooke in 1907 to promote Elizabethan drama. The opening production had the founder as Dr Faustus and his relative Rupert Brooke as Mephistopheles. From the outset the actors (all male) were anonymous.

By 1958, women were allowed in and the Marlowe's pre-eminence as the leading drama society was well-established. Productions were in the professional Arts Theatre, which was funded by the city and the university. The English don George "Dadie" Rylands (who with Tom Henn had been among the first to graduate as English Literature students in Cambridge) organised the Marlowe. John Barton, his younger colleague at King's College was the most respected of Cambridge directors. As an undergraduate, contemporaneous with Peter Hall, he had acted, but by 1958 he was researching the staging of Elizabethan Theatre and directing undergraduates in spare time. He insisted on punctuality at rehearsals and a total concentration during rehearsals. Unwittingly perhaps, he was preparing us for the professional theatre. At the end of my first term he left academia to join Hall's newly founded Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon where he remains its eminence grise.

John had remembered my old man audition for the ADC and entrusted me with the ancient Justice Robert Shallow in Henry 4th part two. I wasn't in Part One. He encouraged me to discover a vocal range I'd not tried for before, mainly by mimicking him. In one scene Shallow enters saying to his visitor Falstaff: "Nay, you shall see mine orchard where in an arbour we shall eat a pippin of last year's graffing…" This I had to try for a score of times, until Barton was satisfied that my words set the scene and conjured up the Gloucestershire countryside.

The comedy of Shallow's exchange with his cousin Silence (Michael Burrell intended to act professionally) took care of itself but Barton also wanted it under-pinned by a nostalgic melancholy, in which Shakespeare, he pointed out, had anticipated Chekov. Falstaff himself was an astonishing achievement by Clive Swift who was soon recruited by the RSC. It was also obvious that Derek Jacobi (Prince Hal) would be a successful professional actor. John Tydeman (Pistol) joined the BBC as a director in the Radio Drama Department.

Professionalism was in the air and when I read the review in the News Chronicle, I believed it, and decided to become an actor after Cambridge. I asked Barton if I'd made the right decision. He didn't discourage me. — Ian McKellen, December 2006
Comments and Reviews
The Marlowe Society traditionally presents its plays with an anonymous cast. So when Alan Dent wrote his review for the News Chronicle, his headline was "Here's a brilliant Justice — but who is he?" "Infinitely the best performance, though, is that of Justice Shallow who is genuinely ancient, wheezy, full of sudden changes and chortles and sadnesses. This Shallow's sighs are half-chuckles and his giggles are melancholy. The young actor not only plays the mad old gentleman quite brilliantly — he also shows himself to be a master of make-up, which is the rarest thing in amateurs. The Marlowe Society persists in its policy of not naming its actors. But one would like to know the name of this Shallow because it might obviously become a name to remember."