Written by Anthology with commentary by Ian McKellen

Ian McKellen in the role of Solo recital of favourite writings

UK, Edinburgh, Belfast, Yorkshire

5 September 1976 - 13 November 1977


Words from Ian McKellen

This 2 hour anthology which juxtaposed high literature with low, was compiled hurriedly between performances at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. For its premiere at the 1976 International Festival, I drove to Edinburgh after the Saturday matinee of "Romeo and Juliet" on 4 September and was back in time for the Monday evening performance of the same play. This was a daring schedule considering the press night for "Macbeth" the following Thursday evening after a matinee of "The Winter's Tale"!

My first visit to Northern Ireland (21 November: Queen's University Festival, Belfast) was educative, observing at close quarters the residents of Belfast dodging terrorist explosions and the responding security forces. An interview at the BBC headquarters was conducted behind barbed wire and bomb-proof doors. The annual arts festival was, however, a safe affair. Indeed throughout the Troubles, Queen's University seems to have been off-limits to the IRA and other disaffected groups. I stayed in the infamous Europa Hotel in the city centre, the most bombed hotel in the world, where there were never any casualties: journalists favoured the Europa but they were always warned well in advance of any planned destruction. — Ian McKellen, June 2001

Programme Note (1976): "This recital is compiled from some of my favourite words. My only theme is the beauty, complexity and glory of the English language as I've relished it in private and as an actor. The running order is not reliable"

Part one: Poetry "Shakespeare, Marlowe, Raleigh, Donne, Marvell; D.H.Lawrence, William Wordsworth, G.M. Hopkins, John Betjeman. NonLit. English. Drama ""Richard II".

Part Two: "Macbeth". Letters "Raleigh, Dr.Johnson, Mark Twain, Rupert Brooke. Drama ""Too True to be Good" G.B.Shaw.

Comments and Reviews


5 September: Edinburgh International Festival: St Cecilia's Hall

21 November: Queen's University Festival, Belfast


29 August: Edinburgh International Festival: St Cecilia's Hall

6 November: Old Malton, North Yorkshire

13 November: Queen's University Festival: Harty Music Room, Belfast

"Ian McKellen, in a personal choice, 'Words, Words,Words' has compiled a deliciously varied anthology, sometimes deeply felt, sometimes soaring into realms of unpredictable amazement (e.g. In an extract from Roget's Thesaurus or a passage of solemn gibberish from, of all things, 'VAT News no. 10'), sometimes hovering between the two, as in his version of his friend Yevteshenko reciting in full spate; and always as he glides or leaps from mood to mood, uplifting us through his own acute and joyful response to language" — J. W. Lambert, Sunday Times

"He took as his encore a reading from the S-Z section of the London telephone directory (Smellie-Smith) and made it entertaining. His style is not the form of oration identified with Shakespearian actors, but a friendly and open one. Although some people, myself included, consider him the best Shakespearian actor of his generation, it is refreshing to have this unpretentious reading as well as the great portrayals on stage." — Robert Cushman, Observer