Date: Sunday 18th August 2019
Venue: Theatre Royal, Newcastle
As you are probably already well aware I am such a huge fan of Sir Ian McKellen and while yes that does stem from him being Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and later The Hobbit) I have in recent years tried to catch up with some of his work. Lucky enough to have seen him in No Man’s Land on stage in Newcastle at the Theatre Royal. Unfortunately couldn’t squeeze in a London trip last year to catch King Lear though, which was a shame!
However when he announced this utterly amazing theatre show to celebrate turning 80, I just knew I had to be there and managed to get front row seats as well. A whole two minutes after they went on sale last year I must add. So it has been a rather long wait for him to get to Newcastle and it was also announced the show would be heading to the West End for a limited stint of around two and a half months. This really does show how popular he still is to this day and fans ranging over many decades.
He opens the show with the Fellowship score playing and comes on with the Lord of the Rings book reading one of the most famous parts and then scenes in the film “You Shall Not Pass” is what it is building up to. Such an amazing way to open the show and getting to hear Gandalf in real life! From this he invites someone from the audience onto the stage to touch the sword prop and poses for a selfie with Gandalf hat and all!
The hat is taken from the box which is very central to the show as he uses different props from it to help tell the different stories, in particular plenty of books. From this we are taken on the journey of his life and how he ended up being a professional actor when he was quite happy and content to be an amateur actor. Like his sister who was also a qualified teacher and Uncle Ken! Could he also head to University and make his family proud? One of my favourites of his stories had to be about his first theatre experience to see Peter Pan and mentioning clapping that he believed in fairies and then added that he hasn’t stopped clapping since.
He has been a very important figure in campaigning for gay rights and accidentally outed himself when on a radio show, but explains the relief and weight off his shoulders he felt with that was amazing. This wasn’t taken into a whole lot of detail throughout the show but it is something he is very open about.
It was amazing to hear stories of his studying at Cambridge and the fellow actors who were from similar year groups including Vicious co-star and life long friend Derek Jacobi, who throughout the show gets a few mentions in jest. Also on a side note I totally love that tv show! Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney and Stan Lee also getting mentions at different times. I was hoping for a little mention of Magento, but we did get the tribute towards Stan Lee who was involved with X-Men.
Judi Dench is someone he has worked with a lot over the years and it is just amazing to hear a couple of the stories. I was half expecting the story about the Oscars and Maggie Smith which is quite frankly hilarious, but I guess I already knew all about that anyway. The first half contained these stories and explaining different projects and how theatre used to work with the the same companies putting on so many shows over the course of a year.
The second act was a love in to Shakespeare and he gets the audience involved after placing all of the plays on top of the box, in the different categories he decides to test everyone’s knowledge and naming all 37 plays! With this as different titles were shouted out he would tell a story around it, the role he possibly played in it or wish he had. A couple he has nothing to say about which was absolutely hilarious in all honesty. Getting to hear him deliver some of the most famous dialogue and introduce me to some speeches I had never heard before really makes me want to explore more Shakespeare.
Someone shouted “Macbeth” as you can imagine his reaction was “nooooo” something which actors and theatre people don’t do is say the name. It is supposed to be unlucky and cursed. It is revered to as The Scottish Play, something which had be utterly confused when I attended the Tony Awards in 2008 and it was nominated so many times with Patrick Stewart in the title role! Thought that was a great little link in this review considering the friendship between the pair!
Seeing the legend of Ian McKellen moving around the stage and still having such an incredible deep passion for acting and being on that stage was inspiring. I want to watch even more theatre after hearing him talk about how much it has meant and still means to him. An utterly breathtaking theatre experience and it is something that I hope everyone will enjoy, I could be very tempted to try and squeeze in a trip to see him in the West End. He will get a full house every night and the standing ovation he so richly deserves.
Thank you Sir Ian McKellen, Happy 80th Birthday. Here’s no many more birthdays and shows! I am sure he will never stop acting and performing.