Ian McKellen E-Posts

28 July 2002

Richard III: Physical difficulties

From: Aodan O'Reilly irishbasterd1@aol.com

Q: I'm a young actor and I have just been cast in the leading role of a production of "The Cripple Of Inishmaan." I just saw your Richard III. How hard it was to maintain the crippled leg during a stage run? It is proving quite difficult for me and I have a six week run waiting for me and that could be extended.

A: It is essential to warm up and cool down before and after any stage performance, vocally and physically, especially if you are distorting your normal speech or movement. So stretch on the dressing-room floor and if you know a masseur/physiotherapist, get friendly with him/her.

Richard III in St Paul

From: Ned Kelly nedkelly@mediaone.net

Q: I attended a performance of Richard III at the Ordway in my hometown of St. Paul back in 1992. I was only 15 years old at the time, but it was an amazing experience. My interest in Shakespeare was just beginning around that time, and Richard III made a huge impression on me and encouraged me to delve further into Shakespeare and the theatre, with English literature and drama now being my primary focus of study in my college education.

A: I well remember our weeks onstage at St Paul because I started planning the screenplay of Richard III in my hotel room each night after the show. Perhaps if night-life in your hometown had been more alluring, there would have been no movie.

Richard III: The wooing of Anne

From: Karin

Q: I have avidly read of your stage performance of Richard III. Could you please describe how you handled the wooing of Anne, including how you used the jacket and ring as "sly, sexual, props to entice the widow", as described by the Times?

A: My introduction to the screenplay of Richard III is now accessible on this site and the notes which follow cover the scene with Lady Anne, a part I extended so she reappears in the movie after Shakespeare had abandoned her in the play. During the wooing — set in a mortuary where her first husband lies on a slab, I removed some clothes onstage and onscreen because Richard refers to his bare chest. I pulled the ring off my right hand with my teeth, my left hand being ill-formed and useless. A sly, sexual manoeuvre perhaps.

Shakespeare for Everyman

From: nmecooney@yahoo.ie

Q: I am currently doing my masters in Renaissance literature and I am interested in your views concerning film versions of Shakespeare. Kenneth Branagh has been attacked for relying on A.C. Bradley's Shakespeare, whilst other film-makers have been praised for accommodating a high-art version of Shakespeare. Significantly your Shakespeare is often concidered a useful go-between the two types. How do you prefer to see Shakespeare - the Renaissance common man's poet, the intellect's Bard, or do you favour a Shakespeare for everyman? Should he be allowed into popular culture, or should he remain text book?

A: Ever since I discovered Shakespeare in live performance when I was eight or so, I have thought he belonged primarily in the theatre where he can appeal to all ages. Film versions are translations into another medium and some reduction is inevitable. Academia has much to offer in understanding Shakespeare but I have no time for those who think he works best in the study. I romantically wish Shakespeare were available to everyone onstage because anyone can enjoy his plays, assuming the productions are any good, of course.

Macbeth: Aging

From: Tony Hewitson definite_article@hotmail.com

Q: Is it possible to reconcile the main inconsistency in "Macbeth" - the problem that at the start of the play Macbeth is a relatively young man yet by Act Five Scene Three he is speaking of the "sear" and "yellow leaf" having supposedly seen many years of reign, with the fact that only a short space of time seems to have elapsed between Duncan's murder and Malcolm's arriving with the English army?

A: Your query exemplifies the problem of studying as opposed to watching and listening to Shakespeare. I don¹t think the ageing bothers on audience because they have been privy to the intricacies of Macbeth's conscience and feel, whether years have passed or not, that he has had more than enough emotional experience for a lifetime.

The Seagull in Central Park

From: bmuir69@hotmail.com

Q: This past August, after enduring a dark (but thankfully dry) night of the soul on a NYC bench outside Central Park, I was able to secure a ticket to The Seagull - and I could have sworn that I saw you there as well (at the show, I mean - not camping out). I know you'd already performed Stoppard's adaptation in 1998. Was there anything about this version that lingered in your mind, both in general and in terms of how you had done it?

A: The Central Park Seagull couldn't be further removed spatially from the one I did in the 200-seater indoor Courtyard Theatre (at the West Yorkshire Playhouse) in Leeds. Chekov doesn't take kindly to amplified performances in the open air, when it isn't always easy to detect who is speaking. That said — what the magnificent Meryl Streep (Arkadina) calls "stadium acting" — many of the central characterisations were spot on - Philip Seymour Hoffman's delicate appreciation of the young playwright's moods for one. Very good actors fighting the odds makes for rivetting theatre-going but it isn't much to do with the subtleties which Dr Chekov analyses so meticulously.

 Macbeth: The Scottish Play

From: Alice Hanna leighton82@hotmail.com

Q: I was in a Shakespeare appreciation class last semester at Western Illinois University where I am trying to attain a degree in English. We watched several versions of that Scottish Play and were quiet fortunate to watch the one you did with Dame Judi Dench. Besides telling you that I loved it, I wanted to know how did you prepare for such a "different" production. I've never seen anything like it. I have just one more question and it's rather silly but did you straight out call it "Macbeth" or "the Scottish Play".

A: I enjoyed working on our production (onstage and on video) so much that I have always since called it "Macbeth" and damn the consequences. For me it was a lucky play. One day soon I'll write about it in detail in the drama section of this site. It was part of the 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company's season at Stratford-upon-Avon in the little Other Place theatre (100 audience scattered around a magic circle), where without scenery and only minimal props and costumes (costing £200), we told the story in two hours without an interval. The television adaptation hopefully achieved the director Trevor Nunn's aim "to photograph the text." In Shakespeare, the words should be supreme.

Click to enlarge
Ian McKellen (Macbeth) on second visit with the three witches (Susan Dury, Judith Harte, Marie Keane)

Favourite Playhouses

From: Christine Krebs-Bonder mermaid@dnaco.net

Q: Which London playhouse is your favorite and why?

A: Considering your addy perhaps you wondered whether the late lamented Mermaid where I played Richard II and Edward II might be my favourite. After working in many large theatres in UK and abroad, my favourites these days are the more intimate ones where the audience is close to the actors and therefore alert to any falseness of tone or emotion - Young Vic in London (Macbeth, Othello), Other Place in Stratford (Macbeth, The Alchemist, Othello), Cottesloe at the Royal National Theatre (The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya). One exception to this would The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (Swansong), a large auditorium which seems small, thanks to the cunning of its interior designer Tanya Moisewitsch, who was Tyrone Guthrie's colleague at Stratford, Ontario and at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Marlowe and Shakespeare

Q: I'm 17, and writing a novel that focuses on Christopher Marlowe and the interaction and rivalry between him and Shakespeare. I think Marlowe had a power and anger that Shakespeare couldn't rival, but Shakespeare was much more understanding and forgiving of human nature. What are the differences between their works from an actor's point of view?

Q: I have always enjoyed playing in Marlowe - his characters are boldly drawn and passionate. Dr Faustus's death speech for example is one of the great acting challenges. Shakespeare's range of characters is much wider and so are his perceptions about human nature and society — by comparison Marlowe goes for primary colours and prefers tyrants to the general public. Shakespeare developed the blank verse which Marlowe used first to great effect but made it more complex and yielding to the rhythms of ordinary speech. Wouldn't you also say that Shakespeare had a better sense of humour? Even so, as men, Marlowe's racy and secret private life suggest he might have been more entertaining company in the Mermaid Tavern than his contemporary — you will have noticed they were born in the same year. Good luck with your novel.

Edward II: Gay Issues

From: Peter Petraitis ppetraitis@msn.com

Q: As a closeted gay man of 23 I saw you in EDWARD II back in the '70s. I got to see Edward come alive before my eyes and my struggles as a young man coming to terms with his sexuality became not quite so lonely. I'd read the play in college and been moved by it, but it was your performance which encouraged me that historically I was NOT ALONE! This was a great moment in my life. I came out shortly after that night. But I digress and really meant to ask if playing Edward as a young man who perhaps personally may have been dealing with the same issues as I was at the time was difficult for you?

A: The power of live theatre! I wish I had come out when you did. Although I revelled in the permission the part gave me to be publically affectionate with another man, I didn't make the connection between that and my own situation. My boyfriend joined me in Edinburgh where we risked imprisonment by making love. I was indifferent to the burgeoning gay rights movement. more concerned with my career than politics. But I felt strongly and still do that to repress human feelings, as his nobles do to Edward, is to encourage anti-social behaviour — tyranny in Edward's case and an ill-affection for "justice" in the rest of us.