In my life, and I’m sure in everyone’s life, there are things that I never thought I would witness… ever. Sir Ian McKellen lobbing oranges into a crowd was probably at the top of the list, fortunately for me, I was able to witness just that. I will provide no context.
I was fortunate enough to spend the evening in the company of the legendary actor, Sir Ian McKellen, who has been touring the United Kingdom celebrating his 80th birthday. McKellen has been performing his one-man show in over 80 different venues that he has a connection with. What’s interesting about this is that it means that each show varies. Since each venue has a unique history, it means that McKellen has a different story for each one. So, the show I saw in Brighton may vary to the show in Stratford, for example.
What I loved so much about this show is how involved I felt. I’ve seen musicals, plays, and comedians, but at the time I had never seen an actor hold an audience all by himself, so I didn’t really know what to expect from it. What I didn’t expect was to feel as though I was part of the show. This wasn’t a case of being heckled by a comedian, the audience actually played a part in where the show went next, it was down to us to decide.
The opening half was really the hook for me since he opened with Lord of the Rings. You can’t get much better than that. To put it simply, after the first 10 minutes I would have had no problem if that was the entire show. Obviously, I’m glad it went on for almost 3 hours but those first 10 minutes really meant the world to me. After the introduction which focused on his experience as Gandalf and the arrival of some surprise stage props, the show then gravitated towards his actual story. How did Sir Ian McKellen get to where he was? Sir Ian takes us on a wonderful and heart-warming journey from when his sister performed in local productions to when young Ian decided to pursue theatre instead of hotel management.
I was fairly worried about the second half of the show when it started. A big part of Sir Ian McKellen’s career has been filled with the work of William Shakespeare. Not that that is a bad thing of course, it’s an area I’m not that familiar with so I was worried about feeling excluded. Instead, I felt involved and rather educated once the curtains went down. This half is brilliantly structured since it relies heavily on the audience remembering all of Shakespeare’s plays- from Romeo and Juliet, to Macbeth, to Coriolanus, to plays that I had not heard of, such as the Merchant of Venice. Each Shakespeare show was accompanied by a short anecdote about the production or a beautifully delivered monologue.
The entire show is a fun and captivating experience that follows the life of a wonderful and inspirational actor who built himself up from the bottom. Whether you’re a fan of Gandalf or Shakespeare, there is a bit for everyone and the level of participation ensures a lively and loving atmosphere that is held together by the ingenious Sir Ian McKellen. His passion for the craft and his respect for the audience helped construct a show that felt more like a long friendly chat that could have gone off in several different directions and lasted many more hours.
Thank you, Sir Ian for an incredible night. If you have the opportunity to go to one of his shows, please grab it with both hands. Whether you’re a theatre lover or a die-hard Tolkien fan, this show is not to be missed.