Ian McKellen has lent his voice to a new iPad app series of Shakespeare plays in an attempt to get people to hear the playwright’s words, rather than just reading them.
Users will be able to scroll through a play’s script while actors, including McKellen, read the lines aloud as they appear on screen.
Announcing the app, McKellen claimed too many people experience Shakespeare’s plays for the first time when they read the scripts, and are therefore not enjoying them as they were intended.
Giving a talk at the BFI in London, the actor said Shakespeare’s works are “meant to be heard”, explaining: “It’s always a bother to me that so many people meet Shakespeare not in the theatre, not even on the screen, but on the page.”
He continued: “I think to give somebody unfamiliar with reading the text a Shakespeare play to enjoy is as daft as giving them the score of a Mozart piano concerto. You can read it, but you can’t hear it.”
The actor added that Shakespeare plays could be reduced to just “an examination subject” if people do not see them brought to life in the theatre.
McKellen’s voice will appear in The Tempest, the first app in a planned series of 37 instalments to cover all of Shakespeare’s plays.
He will read the lines of Prospero in the Heuristic Shakespeare: The Tempest app, which will also feature Derek Jacobi as Gonzalo and Frances Barber as Iris.
“Following the text and watching the actors read the words out loud is like having your own private performance to hand,” McKellen explained, adding that it would appeal “to students at whatever level, as much as to theatregoers who want to study the play”.
The app will also have detailed descriptions of the play’s characters, a ‘character map’ showing each person’s location during the play, and the full Arden critical introduction to the play’s context. Users will also be able to highlight extracts of the play and make notes.
Other features include videos of McKellen discussing The Tempest, a timeline of Shakespeare’s life and an interactive map of Shakespearean London.
Creators Heuristic Media insist it is “not intended to be a replacement for seeing the plays in the theatre or on the screen”, but claim it can help make those experiences “more enjoyable and accessible”.
The app is a collaboration between McKellen and director Richard Loncraine – who previously worked together on the 1995 film Richard III – alongside Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate and publisher Bloomsbury.
It will go on sale on Apple’s app store on April 23 – the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.