Ian McKellen on Stage: Tolkien, Shakespeare and You! – Review – Hull New Theatre
By @Roger Crow, June 2019
I’ve been waiting months to see one of the world’s greatest actors in his natural habitat. And I almost have to pinch myself when Ian McKellen appears on stage at Hull New Theatre. When you’ve spent decades watching his work on TV and film, nothing can really prepare you for seeing the man himself in his element, treading the boards.
A few years ago I was knocked out when he played the elder Sherlock in Mr Holmes. He physically seemed to age a decade, without make up, but I thought it must have been a cinema trick.
Seeing him in the flesh, it’s no illusion. McKellen has that rare ability to transform before your eyes, whether whipping through the complete works of Shakespeare, or sending waves of electricity through the crowd as he performs a scene from Tolkien’s beloved classic, The Lord of the Rings.
Obviously for a generation of fans, he will always be Gandalf, in all his forms. That kindly wizard, buried beneath a big beard, floppy hat and false nose was the role of a lifetime, an amalgamation of all Shakespearean parts if you like.
Only McKellen’s Gandalf could face off against the mighty Balrog, telling him “You shall not pass.” It’s a wonder the creature didn’t turn on his hoof, and run away in an instant.
But aside from obligatory Tolkien moments, and Bard-related shenanigans, there are also hilarious scenes as McKellen transforms into a pantomime dame.
And you certainly get value for money. Having turned 80 the other week, I thought he’d do a 90-minute set and retire for the evening, but it’s a good 90 minutes by the time we reach the interval. By the end of the show, I’m mesmerised, and so inspired I could quite happily go off and join an am dram theatre in the hope of channelling some of that McKellen magic.
I can only imagine what genuine thespians thought as he gave a masterclass in keeping an audience in the palm of his hand, and all without the aid of a microphone.
As the show ends, and he leaves for the foyer, there’s little wonder there’s the sort of thunderous applause I’ve never heard in this neck of the woods. For everyone in that amazing theatre, this is an evening we’ll never forget.
As we depart, I thank him with a statement that loses a little when spoken, and seems a bit of an overstatement, but 24 hours later seems more relevant than ever.
“That was the greatest knight of my life.”
“Oh thank you,” he replies, in those unmistakable McKellen tones, while collecting loose change – his UK tour is one huge fund raiser to help support theatres, and judging by the response, it looks like he’s single-handedly propping up the arts.
I could have tried to get tickets for York’s Grand Opera House performance a day later, but I’d rather just bask in the memory of a phenomenal one-man show to rule them all.