The power of the spoken word: Almeida Theatre launches Figures of Speech

Ashley Walters

Ashley Walters - Credit: Archant

The Almeida’s digital series stars Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw and Ashley Walters, with insight from Caitlin Moran and some of London’s next generation of leaders

The Almeida Theatre has launched Figures of Speech, a new digital film project that explores the vitality of speech and rhetoric and asks what visionary leadership should sound like today.

A series of actors and young leaders star in films that place some of history’s greatest speeches centre stage and discuss how inspiring leadership should sound in the days of social and political turmoil and in the face of a divided society.

A person’s oratory capabilities were not too long ago an indication of strong leadership – but in the age of Trump and The Boy Who Cried “Fake News”, we are learning new things about the role of language in galvanising the public. We see how made up words and personal remarks can have a more rousing effect than an articulate speech, so how is the spoken word evolving?

Harvey Milk, Nelson Mandela, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Glaser and Neil Kinnock have their words revived by Ian McKellen, Lucian Msamai, Fiona Shaw, Nicola Walker and Ashley Walters.

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The series is available for free, with one film released each day for the next five days. To accompany each speech, young leaders from across London respond with a speech of their own, and you can hear from voices such as Caitlin Moran on hate speak and Mary Beard on crafting great word-works throughout history.

You can find all of this, plus articles and reactions from the performers and audiences at

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