Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford), Acting Shakespeare

March 1976 - April 1978

My career has rested on the patronage of a few directors. Primo inter pares is Trevor Nunn, the fellow-undergraduate with whom I acted at Cambridge. When he succeeded Peter Hall as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he invited me to Stratford to play Leontes to Judi Dench's Hermione/Perdita double which I still regret not having been free to accept. When, in 1976, he suggested I play Macbeth with Judi, as well as Romeo with Francesca Annis (the most beautiful woman I have ever worked with) the offer was irresistible. Ironically, Leontes was also part of the deal although not, alas, with Judi. So I found myself fulfilling a childhood fantasy of working at Stratford-upon-Avon and, as it turned out, during one of the RSC's golden eras.

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Ian McKellen, 1976
Photo by Nobby Clark


The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Stratford-upon-Avon
Click to enlarge
Bill at The Other Place, 1976
Click to enlarge
Francesca Annis and Ian McKellen
Photo by Nobby Clark, 1976

I had first been there when I cycled south from Lancashire for the Bolton School camp in Tiddington, a village along the Avon from the theatre, whence we punted each evening for the plays. Early morning we queued for cheap tickets, often standing at the back of the stalls for half-a-crown (12p). This was before Peter Hall transformed a summer festival theatre into an all-year-round operation with a permanent company on some long term contracts and with the Aldwych Theatre in London as its West End home. By 1976 (the first year that there had been air-conditioning in the auditorium, although not backstage) Trevor Nunn was firmly in control. He divided his time between Warwickshire and London but I had no complaints of being neglected.

I lodged in a couple of rooms on the upper floor of what looked like a haunted house just along the river from the church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried. I clambered daily over the wall surrounding Holy Trinity and through the graveyard to the Bancroft Gardens, where, 16 years before, I had acted in the open air as a student.

Every day of that season was a romance: and my lover was the theatre. — Ian McKellen, July 2003

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Bancroft Gardens, Stratford
Photo by Ian Britton courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Left: Francesca Annis (Juliet) and Ian McKellen (Romeo) sitting with the cast of 1976 RSC "Much Ado About Nothing," left to right: Robin Ellis (Don Pedro), Richard Durden (Claudio), Cherie Lunghi (Hero), Ivan Beavis (Leonato), Judi Dench (Beatrice), Donald Sinden (Benedick)

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The Plays

YearPlaceTitle/WriterDirector/Role
1976 Royal Shakespeare Company
Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle-upon Tyne, London
ROMEO AND JULIET (1976)
William Shakespeare

DIRECTOR: Trevor Nunn
ROLE: Romeo
1976 Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Stratford-upon-Avon
Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations Concert
1976 Royal Shakespeare Company
RST
Stratford-upon-Avon
THE WINTER'S TALE
William Shakespeare

DIRECTOR: John Barton, Barry Kyle, and Trevor Nunn
ROLE: King Leontes
1976 Royal Shakespeare Company
Other Place, Stratford-upon-avon; Gulbenkinan Theatre, Newcastle; RST, Stratford; Donmar Stratford-upon-Avon; Newcastle; London
MACBETH
William Shakespeare
DIRECTOR: Trevor Nunn
ROLE: Macbeth
Plays & Players' London Theatre Critics' Award - Best Actor
1976 Shakespeare Institute
Stratford-upon-Avon
Atlantic Affairs
1976 UK
Edinburgh, Belfast, Yorkshire
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
Anthology with commentary by Ian McKellen

ROLE: Solo recital of favourite writings
1976 Royal Festival Hall
London
Recital of poems by Yevgeni Yevtushenko

1976 Aldwych Theatre
London
Celebrity Gala Recital
1977 Hilton Hotel
Stratford-upon-Avon
WON'T YOU CHARLESTON? DIRECTOR: Gillian Lynne

1977 Royal Shakespeare Company
Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon; Aldwych Theatre, London
Stratford-upon-Avon; London
THE ALCHEMIST
Ben Jonson (adapted by Peter Barnes)
DIRECTOR: Trevor Nunn
ROLE: Face
Society of West End Theatres (SWET) - Best Comedy Performance

1977 Royal Shakespeare Company
Barbican Concert Hall
London
EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR
Tom Stoppard with music by Andr‚ Previn

DIRECTOR: Trevor Nunn
ROLE: Alexander

1977 Royal Shakespeare Company
Aldwych Theatre
London
PILLARS OF THE COMMUNITY
Henrik Ibsen
DIRECTOR: John Barton
ROLE: Karsten Bernick
Society of West End Theatres (SWET) - Best Actor

1977 St. Cecilia's Hall
Edinburgh
ACTING SHAKESPEARE
From Shakespeare with commentary by Ian McKellen


1977 Royal Shakespeare Company
Aldwych Theatre
London
THE DAYS OF THE COMMUNE
Bertolt Brecht, Translation by Clive Barker

DIRECTOR: Howard Davies
ROLE: Langevin

1977 Arts Theatre
Belfast
ACTING SHAKESPEARE (Belfast)
From Shakespeare with commentary by Ian McKellen

1978 Royal Shakespeare Company
Aldwych Theatre
London
A MISERABLE AND LONELY DEATH
Norman Fenton and Ron Blair
Role: Kentridge
1978 Wolsey Theatre
Ipswich
ACTING SHAKESPEARE (Ipswich)
From Shakespeare with commentary by Ian McKellen

1978 University of London: Senate House Homage to Neruda
Pablo Neruda
 

Next:
July 1978 - April 1979
Small Scale Tour

Stage Index

Plays by Title

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