McKellen celebrates birthday on 80 stages

Actor Sir Ian McKellen celebrates his 80th birthday with 80 date fundraiser

Ian McKellen on Stage: with Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others & You – Lighthouse, Poole (Tuesday 2nd July 2019)

This was a joyful evening – a masterclass from one of our finest actors on how to hold an audience absolutely spellbound. When Sir Ian McKellen announced last year that he was going to celebrate his 80th birthday (it happened on 25th May by the way ) and would be raising funds for theatres, with a new solo show touring 80 stages across the UK, no one really knew what to expect.

He hinted it would be a mixture of anecdote and acting including, as the title suggests, some Tolkien, Shakespeare and perhaps a bit of interaction with the audience. All I can say is that this show is all of that and more, much more. It’s a tour de force that celebrates McKellen’s long and illustrious career with enormous energy, passion and above all humour.

It doesn’t take long before you realise that, despite his much garlanded career as an actor, he could just as easily have been a cutting edge stand-up. From the opening Gandalf speech from Lord of the Rings to the final lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, we see McKellen reviewing a  very serious career but one that he has always regarded with a twinkle in his eye.

Armed with just a box of props, he delivers wonderful anecdotes describing his northern childhood in Wigan and Bolton, his early love of the theatre, his gay awakening watching the Welsh actor/composer Ivor Novello and his later ‘coming out’ at the age of 48.  

There are stories too about his activism, his scholarship to Cambridge and his subsequent career in the theatre from weekly rep to the classical stage. There are the big names he’s met along the way, his knighthood and how he nearly decided that rather than be an actor he wanted to go into hotel management. Fortunately, unlike Cambridge University, the Blackpool Catering College turned him down.

Alongside his readings from Shakespeare and the classics, McKellen also displays his tremendous range as an actor and raconteur, camping it up outrageously for instance as he pays tribute to panto while showing  the audience his ‘Twankey’. 

Proceeds from the show will go towards Bright Sparks, a programme that enables and inspires talented people in Dorset to develop professionally across the arts sector.

Footnote: This wasn’t the first time that Ian McKellen had been on the Lighthouse stage. He first appeared there 40 years ago in a performance of Twelfth Night. That was a show he is unlikely to forget. As he attempted to access the stage via the auditorium (a direction written into the play) he found his way barred by an over-zealous usherette who told him he couldn’t come in without a ticket. A dumbfounded McKellen gestured to the fact that he was wearing full doublet and hose and pleaded: “Do I look like a member of the audience?” The penny finally dropped and the usherette let him pass.

Jeremy Miles

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