MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1965)
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Ian McKellen in the role of Claudio
Old Vic, London
16 February 1965
Words from Ian McKellen
"Franco Zeffirelli was there too. He was casting his very Italian MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and surprisingly hadn't yet found, among the young bloods in the company, anyone suitable to play the juvenile lead. Shallow was a daft audition piece - and yet that's how I came to play Claudio for the second time. I wore even more make-up than at Coventry but at least, this time, it was expertly applied - by the director himself, as he faced me sitting on my lap! Throughout rehearsals, he had given me only one note of any substance: 'It's to simple, Jan; you enter in and make all the audience fall right in love with you, caro'. A fat chance of that, I thought, with Albert Finney, Derek Jacobi and Bob Stephens in all my scenes, let alone Michael York as a very glamorous Watchman. Shakespeare's young lovers must first and foremost be hugely attractive - Franco was right - although his doll-like make-up did nothing for my face or my confidence. I went right off Shakespeare and soon left the National to do a string of modern and new plays elsewhere. I even made a few films." — From the programme for ACTING SHAKESPEARE
Words from Alan Ridgway, who created and played the role of "The Coffee Boy" in Much Ado About Nothing
It was a wonderful time in my life mostly! I was only 15 when I joined the National at its inception in October 1963. Ian joined us in 1965 and was in my communal dressing room.Many of us were in numerous productions but Ian was only in Much Ado. Though we spoke to each other, due to age difference we did not associate with each other outside of the Old Vic. I would have been 16 going on 17 in 1963. As I still looked about 13 out of make up I was of no real interest to him and just an ordinary working class boy.
This production was like nothing I had been involved with before. I was used to the star names by now as the company had so many leading performers during my time with them. Franco Zeffirelli, director, came in like a breath of fresh air. The costumes were outrageous and camp, as was the set. Fountains with mermaids and statues all came to life and were played by actors. Chris Timothy (Cedric in Alfred the Great) I remember was centerpiece of the fountain. He was adorned with two actors dressed as mermaids and at the blackout you would hear calls of "Come and get me, I can`t get up!" Some even played parts of sofas.
The more over the top we were the more Franco loved it. My role originally was just a one scene two line servant's part. Franco seemed quite taken by me and decided I had a good feel for comedy and had me pop up everywhere in scenes from behind statues etc. whilst chain-smoking, carrying coffee or wine glasses and generally getting in the way. It was the most time I ever spent on stage. I remember Maggie Smith at a rehearsal joking my part would be bigger than hers soon. What a fabulous lady.
The stage critic after opening night included me in his review when he said that "Lynn Redgrave and Alan Ridgway are others who gave excellent performances." In many ways the production had an almost pantomime feel about it. I had never smoked up to this time and I was often seen throwing up initially. At least they were Olivier cigarettes. He had a brand named after him and they were the only ones on sale in the machine at the Theatre.
We also took the production on tour and the audiences loved it. Even if you were not a Shakespeare fan you could not help enjoy it. Ian as per instructed was very OTT as were most of us. Albert Finney was hilarious and Maggie Smith just camped it up as only Maggie could.
I remember we had a wonderful first night party in the Green Room. Mum's the word there! It was one of those productions where it attracted fans at the stage door afterwards. Ian and other star players would sign autographs and even I was asked on occasions after they asked what I played. I have only one photo of me from production sadly, making me look about 25. I left the company towards end of 1965 so did not appear in the television production. — Alan Ridgway, May 2020