Sir Ian McKellen has hailed William Shakespeare as a champion of diversity ahead of celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.
Speaking at the launch for Heuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest App, the 76-year-old said: “Anybody can relate to Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare wrote about black people,” he told the Press Association.
“He wrote about us all, he wrote about gay people like me, he wrote about women – my goodness, did he write fantastic parts for women!”
Sir Ian continued: “He wrote about leaders, tyrants, people you meet in the pubs, soldiers of all ranks so the colour of your skin or the culture from which you come from isn’t really relevant, but the plays go on being persistently relevant – and not just in this country.
“Millions of Chinese students study Shakespeare, for example. Anybody can relate to Shakespeare.”
The award-winning actor and his Richard III director Richard Loncraine of Heuristic Media, have taken that approach with their Heuristic Shakespeare app.
Developed on the basis that Shakespeare wrote his plays to be seen, the app gives users the opportunity to see a professional cast performing them.
The Tempest, which features Sir Ian as Prospero and Sir Derek Jacobi as Gonzalo, is the first in a series of individual apps covering all of Shakespeare’s plays and built for the iPad.
Working alongside Heuristic Media, renowned Shakespearean scholar Sir Jonathan Bate and publishers Bloomsbury, among others, The Tempest App was created to make the Bard’s plays more accessible to a wider audience.
It will be available from April 23, the 400th anniversary.
Actors read their lines directly to the camera, while the words scroll down at the same pace on the bottom half of the screen.
Sir Ian is already lining up friends and respected colleagues for future Heuristic Shakespeare apps.
“I’ve mentioned it to a few friends and Stephen Fry is dying to get involved. I hoped he might repeat his Malvolio he did so successfully with the Globe Theatre recently.
“Patrick Stewart is lined up, he could play anything,” the Lord Of The Rings star stated.
He added: “I think the best thing is to get actors who’ve already played the parts on stage so that they’re very familiar with the text and can look directly into the camera and speak it as if for the first time. We’re going to have no problems getting actors to get involved.”
The app concentrates entirely on the language and is stripped of staging, sets, costumes, make-up, etc.
The text and video can be paused at any time, allowing the user access to information about every aspect of the play: from the Shakespeare text to specially shot videos of Sir Ian and Sir Jonathan discussing the play.
Clicking on the script gives users access to notes from the Arden editions of Shakespeare’s plays, with explanations, essays and videos.
The apps also include numerous features such as a scrollable timeline showing and linking Shakespeare’s life, contemporary events, his plays and the theatres in which they were performed, an Interactive map of London showing important locations in Shakespeare’s life and a concise “play at a glance” to help explain the plot.
“Heuristic Shakespeare apps have been designed to meet all needs: from users requiring an introduction to Shakespeare, to experts who wish to relive his genius,” said Sir Ian.
However, they are not intended to be a replacement for seeing Shakespeare’s plays in the theatre or on the screen, but they are designed to enhance those experiences, the makers said.
Sir Ian, who is among a host of stars lined up for Shakespeare Live! at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon spoke with warmth as he reflected on the great playwright.
“He is the most celebrated Englishman who ever lived. Forget politicians, forget monarchs – Shakespeare, he’s the king. He’s it.”
Heuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest App will be available to purchase from April 23 for £4.49