Words from Ian McKellen
The success of Prospect Theatre’s production of Richard II (1968) led to its revival with a mainly new cast who also played in Marlowe’s Edward II at the 1969 International Edinburgh Festival and beyond. As only four of us survived from the previous year, there were full-scale rehearsals in London. The arrival of established heavyweight actors like Peggy Thorpe-Bates, Robert Eddison and Timothy West made everything feel much more important. The set, too, was more elaborate and the costumes. My own performance and the production’s original intention remained intact. The refurbished production included one of the last performances by Peter Bourne, before he translated himself into Bette Bourne with Bloolips and other transvestite delights.
At Edinburgh for three weeks I shared with Paul Hardwick (Gaunt) an 18th century house in Anne Street in the so-called New Town. We were sunning ourselves in the front garden the morning after our first performance, when a boy arrived from the Post Office with a complimentary telegram from John Gielgud, the most renowned Richard 2 of our time. We soon got used to praise as we became the must-see hit of the Festival. When we arrived in the City of London’s own theatre (devised by the actor Bernard Miles out of a Thames-side warehouse in Puddle Dock), Shakespeare’s play was inseparable from Marlowe’s, playing in repertoire and being discussed as companions. For the actors, there was no confusion and no forced differentiation. Critics, academic and journalistic, have enjoyed comparing the two kings and the two author’s treatment of them. I just got on with what felt like two jobs – relishing two great parts that incidentally established me in theatregoers’ minds as an actor who had arrived. I made it into the gossip columns and the television arts programmes but there were no groupies and so it was possible to take the fuss a little for granted and not quite appreciate the impact that the royal double were making. This was true even as we travelled abroad with Richard II and then returned, again with Edward II, for a second sell-out London season at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End. Both productions were televised.
Ian McKellen, London, May 2003