Ian McKellen | Blog | 14 January 2014

Meeting audiences outside the Cort Theatre, some questions regularly recur.

"How do you remember your lines?"

Beckett's blessed words have been dodging around in my head for the last five years, since we first did Waiting for Godot in the UK. So far, I've spoken them (and remembered them near as dammit) over 400 times. Other actors have told me of their nightmare experiences of giving the wrong line which like a key opens up tracts of confusion and together wandering into Act 2 dialogue in the middle of Act 1 - or vice-versa. I'm happy (proud even) that by comparison Sir Pat and I have so far stayed on the rails.

Billy Crudup, too, magnificently and movingly speaking Lucky's notorious nonsense in his three-page speech that has little apparent logic and no punctuation.

Aidan and Colin , alternating as the Boy-who-minds-the-sheep-for-Mr-Godot, have counted Lucky's verbiage and found them to have 134 fewer words than Spooner's plea for employment, at the end of No Man's Land. That, though, was a much easier speech to learn, because Spooner's intentions are rational, if, alas, ineffective. Like all Lucky actors before him, Billy hangs the words on a thought-structure only he needs understand. He needed it to learn and remember the speech.

Pinter's speech patterns are elegant and complex, reminding me of Bernard Shaw. I learnt Spooner's words painstakingly over six months before the first rehearsal.

Here's a curiosity. Nestled among Pinter's cool jazzy rhythms are perfect iambic pentameters - interloping blank-verse lines such as Shakespeare used. De-dum, de-dum, de-dum,de-dum,de-dum: as in "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"

Here's a sonnet culled from No Man's Land's iambics, which I gave to Hirst before the opening performance.

All we have left is the English language.

You're a quiet man. It's a great relief.
I wish you'd tell me what the weather's like.
Do you often hang about Hampstead Heath?
The great Jack Straw: do you find it much changed?
You find me in the last lap of a race.
Would you like me to make you some coffee?
Give me the bottle. Give me the bottle.
Quite a few of my friends had moustaches.
Under their dresses, their bodies were white.
How old do you think I was at the time?
Do I detect a touch of the hostile?
He thinks he's a waiter in Amsterdam.
What would I do without the two of you?
There's too much solitary shittery.

-Ian McKellen, New York, 14 January 2014

 

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