Sir Ian McKellen is to bring Gandalf and Shakespeare to Suffolk on birthday tour
- Credit: Archant
Acting legend Sir Ian McKellen is touring the region next celebrating his 80th birthday and raising money for regional theatre. Arts editor Andrew Clarke finds out more about this ‘must-see’ event
Theatre superstar and film legend Sir Ian McKellen will be celebrating his 80th birthday next year by embarking on a grand tour of British theatres, including dates in Ipswich, Colchester and Bury St Edmunds. He will be using a new solo show to raise funds for regional theatres to help them reach out and engage with more people.
The tour starts in January in London before heading out across the country. Sir Ian has chosen a list of venues, both large and small, with which he has personal connections, including notable playhouses he has played in as a professional actor over the last half-century.
His new one-man show will encompass his wide-ranging career and include anecdotes, acting and audience participation.
Sir Ian said: “I’m celebrating my 80th birthday by touring a new solo show to theatres I know well and a few that I don’t. They will expect to see Gandalf, they will. They probably will expect Shakespeare, and there will be a lot of that. There will be other stuff which will perhaps be more surprising.
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“There will be a chance for me to tell a story or two and it will be different perhaps in each place I go to because my memories of the Edinburgh Festival will not be appropriate elsewhere. I open at my local arts centre in January and end up by August in Orkney.
“Live theatre has always been thrilling to me, as an actor and in the audience. Growing up in Lancashire, I was grateful to those companies who toured beyond London and I’ve always enjoyed repaying that debt by touring up and down the country myself, with the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Prospect Theatre, the Actors’ Company, as well as with commercial productions.”
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Sir Ian’s first stop in East Anglia will be at the New Wolsey Theatre, where he will be playing two nights. As he explains, Ipswich holds a very special place in his heart, as the Arts Theatre in Tower Street offered him one of his first regular paying jobs when he was fresh out of drama school.
“In 1962 I joined the repertory company at the now defunct Arts Theatre in Tower Street playing everything from Henry V to ‘comic Chinese policeman’ in Aladdin. Now I’m returning to Ipswich to make my début at the Wolsey.”
Profits from the two Ipswich performances will go towards the New Wolsey Theatre’s Creative Learning programme which is dedicated to using the arts to develop creativity, unlock potential and explore diversity with children, young people and adults.
This funding boost will allow the New Wolsey Theatre to continue to provide arts education to thousands of Ipswich and Suffolk students, teachers and life-long learners each year.
The following month Sir Ian will be performing two nights at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, a Georgian theatre he helped restore when he, along with other, became patron of their restoration and rennovation appeal.
“I was last at the Theatre Royal with Judi Dench, Prunella Scales and Timothy West, this time I’m here on my own,” he said.
Profits will go towards supporting Theatre Royal’s 200th Anniversary £200,000 stabilisation and community outreach initiative.
The following week Sir Ian will bringing his show for two nights at the Colchester Mercury. He said: “The director of my professional début in 1961 was the young David Forder before he arrived to establish The Mercury 10 years later.
“My late sister Jean lived in Colchester where she was a regular at the Mercury. She was locally an enthusiastic amateur actor, director, producer and fundraiser. She was a trustee of Headgate Theatre, one beneficiary of ‘Ian McKellen On Stage’. The other is Mercury Rising to secure the Mercury Theatre building for the future. I’m looking forward to making my Colchester début.”
Sir Ian will be making sure that accessibly priced tickets will be available at every venue and he stressed the importance of local theatre companies, saying “the more theatre there is up and down the country, on tour or locally, the happier people will be”.
Sir Ian, who was born in Bolton, Greater Manchester, said watching regional theatre had given him his first taste of the stage.
He said: “If I had had to have been dependent, when I was a boy, simply on a lot of wonderful theatre in London I would never have seen any theatre at all.
“I think it’s a pity if theatre becomes only something you do on high days and holidays, and spend a fortune seeing the long-running musical.
“If that’s all the theatre-going you do then you are missing out. The best way an actor can support regional theatre is by going to work in it.”
Asked what advice he would give to those young actors, he replied: “I advise them to do what I do and go watch other people acting, whether it is stage or on telly or on film, or even on the Tube, or walking down the street.
“Everyone is always acting. All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. You can learn an awful lot by observing and trying to work out why someone is good on stage and why someone else is not. You can do it for free.”
Sir Ian McKellen’s one-man show will be at New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, March 8-9 2019; Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, April 12-13 2019; Colchester Mercury Theatre, April 17-18 2019
Tickets are on sale at staggered intervals: New Wolsey: Friends of the New Wolsey from 10am today (Fri), New Wolsey Members at 10am on Saturday and general public on sale at 10am on Sunday, November 11.
Colchester Mercury: Priority bookers at 10am today (Friday) and general sale at 10am Monday, November 12.
Bury Theatre Royal: Members presale at 10am Saturday, November 9 and general sale at 10am Monday, November 12.