In the life of a theatre lover there are few things more nerve-wracking than sitting in the audience and waiting for one of your idols to take the stage. It’s a mixture of excitement and trepidation, the anticipation is overwhelming but there’s a sinking feeling when you consider that perhaps your expectations are set too high. The stakes are even higher in the case of a reviewer, if they’re brilliant you know you’ll need to be cautious not to produce a gushing appraisal, but if they disappoint, how on earth do you criticise an icon for whom you have the utmost respect and admiration? Fortunately, after spending an evening with Sir Ian McKellen I can say that there is no risk of the latter… though I certainly can’t guarantee I’ll avoid the former!
Ian McKellen with Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others and You is not a one-man show, it’s something far more special. An evening or an audience with Ian McKellen is a much more apt description, with 2 hours of stories, excerpts and general conversation reminding those lucky enough to gain a ticket why he’s a one of a kind. Organised in support of Park Theatre, the evening covers everything from his humble beginnings in Lancashire to his Shakespearean roles to his adventures in Middle Earth and leaves you wondering how one man could live such an extraordinary life and remain so personable and so incredibly real.
It becomes apparent quite early on that no two productions in this short season will be alike, as he easily chats to his audience. His ability to make each member feel as though they are involved in an intimate conversation is surpassed only by his humility and openness. His childhood anecdotes were particularly engaging and it’s easy to picture a young boy watching his first show, Peter Pan, and falling in love with the theatre. “Being an actor was never the plan, I just fell in love with the magic of the theatre. I had to be around it and the rest just followed.”
For the Tolkienites there’s a particular treat, with one fan given a once in a lifetime photo opportunity. For the rest of us though, the chance to sit and listen to Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring read by Gandalf himself provides a spine tingling moment – I can die happy now!
But it’s not all stories of adventure and success with time also taken to talk about some of the more challenging times of his life, including the radio broadcast during which he first spoke openly about his sexuality.
Despite his barrage of achievements, his humility has not wavered and this is clear to see as he pays his respects to theatre greats and those who left the world far too soon such as Alan Rickman and John Hurt, among many others. It’s the heartfelt and honest moments such as these that make this evening so incredibly engaging, leaving you to feel as though you’ve had the opportunity to meet the man behind the legend… which you can actually do should you opt for the interval drinks package or post-show dinner ticket!
There are performers, there are celebrities, and then there are legends. Sir Ian McKellen has the incomparable talent of a brilliant performer, the career and notoriety of a celebrity and the humility and lasting presence of a legend. Spending time in his company, in such a small theatre is an opportunity that will prove hard to surpass in my mind and one that as both a fan and reviewer I could not recommend more highly. Tolkien wrote “all we can decide is what to do with the time we are given” and it is clear from Ian Mackellen with Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others and You, that he has chosen to maintain a resounding sense of identity despite his enviable success as an actor. A true icon and a representation of all that young performers should aspire to be, we can only hope that that this short season will be the first of many!
Review by Cassandra Griffin
Ian McKellen with Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others & You
Venue: Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Running time: Approx. 2 hours (including interval)