Long before he played Gandalf or Magneto, Sir Ian McKellen was known as one of the finest stage actors in England. A stand out in the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Ian played the lead in its 1974 staging of Doctor Faustus and its 1977 staging of Macbeth. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979 almost entirely because of his stage work.
If you want a sense of just how good Sir Ian is, watch his one-man show Acting Shakespeare. You can see it in its entirety above.
Developed on the road in the late ‘70s, the show is part a scholarly history of the Bard, part an autobiographical yarn and part a greatest hits of Shakespeare’s speeches. And Sir Ian is absolutely dazzling. At one point, he gives a spot on impersonation of Sir John Gielgud. At another he performs a scene from Romeo and Juliet playing both Romeo and Juliet. He shifts effortlessly from giving a soliloquy by Hamlet to delivering a witty anecdote about life on the stage with sense of timing of a veteran stand-up comedian.
Acting Shakespeare is a 95-minute long sustained display of acting bravura. It’s pretty entertaining too. Seriously, check it out.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.