Acting legends boost theatre appeal

FOUR of the greatest actors of their generation took to the stage last night in a special one-off performance in aid of an historic Suffolk theatre.Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Prunella Scales and Timothy West all donned the grease paint at a gala evening to raise funds for the restoration of Grade I-listed Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds.

FOUR of the greatest actors of their generation took to the stage last night in a special one-off performance in aid of an historic Suffolk theatre.

Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Prunella Scales and Timothy West all donned the grease paint at a gala evening to raise funds for the restoration of Grade I-listed Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds.

All had taken time out from their busy schedules - Dame Judi came direct from New York and Timothy West made the trip despite having a broken leg - at the behest of Sir Jeremy Isaacs, who has spearheaded the campaign for the £5.1million needed to secure the theatre's future.

Sir Ian and Dame Judi, who famously appeared together in an acclaimed production of Macbeth, took time out of rehearsal to speak to the EADT.


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Dame Judi, who won an Oscar in 1999 for her role in the film Shakespeare In Love, explained the importance of the project.

She said: "Jeremy asked me to do this about a year ago, and although I've never been to Bury St Edmunds, I knew about this theatre, it's exquisite.

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"And it has to be preserved, these were the only theatres you could go to when I was at drama school, and I think you're extremely lucky to have a theatre like this in your town."

She denied she was "a film star" and said that she was just an actress who was lucky to get film parts and her first love remained the stage. She added she hoped her film appearances would draw more people to the theatre.

Sir Ian, whose own eclectic career includes appearing as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a forthcoming part in Coronation Street, added: "I think I've been here before, I'm ashamed to say I can't remember.

"I was doing a tour at one point and I'm sure this must have been one of the venues, but I have ties with Suffolk and I have family here so I feel quite at home, and my first ever job was in Ipswich.

"Anyway, what's important is what's going on here, they not only have touring shows, which is great for the audience, but plays are being produced here, it all starts here and that's what's so important."

Dame Judi said the relatively small theatre, whose 360 seats sold out within an hour of the box office opening, also had a special appeal in its size.

She said: "It has an intimacy, you don't have to bellow to make yourself heard, it's not intimidating though. If you have ever played the state fair at Denver were they have the Chinese State Circus and so on, that's intimidating."

Sir Ian added: "I was once in a place so big I issued the other actors with handkerchiefs so they could wave them and we would know when they were speaking."

Both actors also paid tribute to the late Sir John Mills, whom they called a true English star, who was "infallibly courteous" and both recalled some of lesser know qualities, such as his ability as a dancer, and his "scurrilous" sense of humour.

When asked if there were any ambitions the pair had yet to fulfil in their acting careers, Sir Ian answered: "I want to appear in a large and hugely successful musical with an immense staircase I can walk down, with Dame Judi Dench."

The evening included the actors in conversation with Sir Jeremy Isaacs, along with performances and recitals from their favourite books and plays, including Macbeth, Hamlet, Henry IV part II, Jane Austen's Emma and JB Priestley's When We are Married.

It was the last in a series of Sunday shows which have raised more than £50,000 for the project, for which £4.2 million of the total required has been raised.

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