Theatreland Tour with Ian McKellen
William Shakespeare Statue
Go and stand in front of the white statue of William Shakespeare.
I’ve always thought it odd that the greatest playwright should stand in a square famous for its cinemas. Though when Shakespeare was around, of course, this area didn’t even have any theatres.
[country idyll atmos.] Look around you. Five hundred years ago this was open countryside, a place where the inhabitants of nearby London grazed their cows and dried their laundry. The city’s theatres were all in Bankside, on the River Thames, outside London’s walls and its rules, and nobody wanted to live anywhere near a noisy theatre.
There was no genteel applause, clapping back then. Theatre audiences were probably more like modern football crowds.
And if they didn’t like the show, well, they let the actors know about it.
[jeering, pelting fruit]
This was the beginning of theatre's journey, before it arrived in the west end of London and long before acting was considered a respectable profession. During your performance today you’ll hear how all that changed, and you’ll meet some of the great names of Theatreland while you’re at it.
So let's get going. Turn your back on the statue of Shakespeare. The Leicester Square Odeon Cinema should be on your right. It’s the imposing, black building with a great tower on it.
And in front of you, there are two diagonal paths. One to the left and one to the right. You’re taking the one on the right, towards the Vue Cinema. Off you go!