May 5 2012, 11:09am
I have just come back from seeing the first one-man show in Sir Ian's tour of New Zealand, which is a fundraiser for repairing the earthquake-damaged Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch (were he last played Waiting for Godot).
Ian McKellen in the flesh
How do I sum up more than two hours of Sir Ian on stage?
For a start, he is a wonderfully generous person - both in his acting and in his engagement with the audience. At one point, he gave a Shakespeare monologue while walking and running along both aisles in the audience. (I had an aisle set and he went right passed me!)
His charm is palpable, and he clearly is delighted to be on stage and chatting with an audience. He loves *people*.
Ian started with a reading from The Fellowship of the Ring, from when the Fellowship has fled the Chamber of Mazarbul and is running to the Bridge of Kazad-dum, to the appearance of the Balrog and the fall of Gandalf. He even brought along Glamdring - "It's made of aluminium and won't cut a thing - come on up if you want to hold it" - and used it as a prop during the reading. (He had a tiny panic when, after about a dozen members of the audience had come up to hold the sword, he thought someone had walked off with it. "I have to get this back to Peter.")
He then answered several questions from the audience, which ranged from why he chose Cambridge University over drama school to how he approached playing Magneto. "It wasn't really me raising the cars with my hands..."
To a question about whether he preferred the immediate response of a live audience over the delayed response to film work (to which the answer was yes), Ian described an early scene from working on The Hobbit. To get the perspectives of tall Gandalf with shorter Dwarves and Hobbit right, there is a lot of green screen work. To start with, all actors are on the same set while they rehearse. When it comes time to film, Ian is taken to another set - all in green - where he will act to pictures of the Dwarf and Hobbit actors. Each set is filmed by a camera, which are slaved so that they move simultaneously, and everyone acts the scene at the same time. Ian's only way of knowing who in the other set is talking is by some lights flashing above the actor's photo on his set. He said it was a very lonely way of acting, and his mutters about it were picked up by everyone linked to his microphone. To make Ian feel better about it all, PJ worked his magic - and the next morning Ian turned up to his changing room to find it had been transformed into a version of Rivendell with lots of props. :)
He had a lot of kind things to say about working with Judi Dench on stage. She pulled his butt out of the fire the one and only time he has had stage fright and couldn't complete a scene: Judi realised what was happening and delivered both her and his lines until the scene was done.
I think he said that earlier this year he marked his 50th year as a professional actor.
The show included a reading by William Wordsworth, and the second half was given over to performances from half a dozen Shakespeare plays (including scenes from both Romeo and Juliet).
One thing that struck me was his voice: Ian has beautiful diction, and can project his voice well in a theatre. (There was no sound amplification used tonight.)
At the end of the show he encouraged further donations for the Isaac Theatre Royal, and stood at the stairs leading outside to farewell everyone, sign programmes and have photos taken.
What a charming, generous and humorous man he is.
Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."
"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.