Ian McKellen, John Napier and Trevor Nunn are together again, 21 years after their ground-breaking "Macbeth" for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Their production of Ibsen's disturbingly modern classic opens at the Olivier Theatre after previews on September. The 6-week rehearsals had to be delayed by 2 days, whilst Sir Ian's filming in Los Angeles over-ran its schedule.
"Not the best way to start with a new company! I did my last shot on "Father of Frankenstein" at 4.00p.m, on what should have been my first day at the National and was at the Tom Bradley International Airport only 4 hours later, with not enough time to dye my film's snow-white hair back to its natural sludge-grey. In the air, I re-read Christopher Hampton's expert new translation of "Enemy of the People", realised I was only just prepared for a first read-through and hoped not too many people in the National's canteen would find my hair over-amusing."
McKellen's first Ibsen was Hjalmar Ekdal in an undergraduate production of "The Wild Duck" at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge (1961), the last of 21 parts during his 3 years there.
"I think I knew what Hjalmar was all about, a tragic-comic part, but I hadn't a total grasp of what he said exactly. On the opening of six nights, Corin Redgrave, as Gregers Werle, gamely and audibly prompted me throughout our scene together in the fourth act."
Waris Hussein, a fellow undergraduate at Cambridge, had directed McKellen as Toby Belch, with Margaret Drabble as Viola and Trevor Nunn as her non-lookalike twin (1960). In 1974, Hussein cast his Sir Toby as George Tesman, husband of Hedda Gabler, played by Janet Susman, then Mrs Trevor Nunn.
"It was inventively shot by Waris and very well-acted by Janet and Tom Bell in particular. Tesman is a part audiences always forget, until he bursts into life and helps drive his wife to suicide. In their delight at meeting the sweet man, critics confuse the part with the actor. Everyone who plays Tesman gets good reviews."
For the RSC at the Aldwych Theatre in 1978, he played Bernick, the conscience-ridden ship-owner, in John Barton's version of the melodrama "Pillars of the Community".
"John with his usual flair, disguised the early Ibsen's short-comings, as he has been known to do with Shakespeare's. Judi Dench and Paola Dionisotti, as my lover and sister, were a constant challenge to match their beautiful acting. Of Ruby Wax, making her West End debut as a fisherman's wife, I remember nothing."
McKellen was voted "Actor of the Year" by the Society of West End Theatre for his work in "Pillars of the Community."
"The award was that year a Wedgwood urn, with Kemble and Sarah Siddons embossed. Better than a cheque. I am very pleased I was given five of the old SWET Awards - but what an acronym!"