This month, Sir Ian McKellen (Beauty and the Beast, Mr. Holmes) finished a phenomenal run of Shakespeare’s King Lear with 100 performances on London’s West End. Far from retirement, the 79-year-old actor will embark on a new project in January 2019. “I’m celebrating my 80th birthday by touring a new solo show to theatres I know well and a few that I don’t. The show starts with Gandalf and will probably end with an invitation to act with me on stage,” McKellen announced recently on the tour website.
Ian McKellen On Stage, as the show is called, will run for 80 performances in UK cities London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cardiff, Belfast, and many others. It will conclude in September with a party at the National Olivier Theatre, London.
This nine-month celebration of McKellen’s birthday is also notable for raising money for charity to help ensure that the dramatic arts remain a vibrant part of UK communities. The initiatives to be supported vary from theatre to theatre including local outreach projects, programs for emerging writers, facility improvements, and maintaining lower admission prices for young people, to name a few.
It’s not the first time that McKellen has done a one-man show. He discussed the subject on last week’s episode of The Graham Norton Show on BBC America. “I’ve always wanted to [do] stand-up really, because that’s the greatest discipline for any performer: to be able stand in front of an audience on your own and keep everyone entertained,” he said.
Story-telling will be a major component of the tour. For hints about the fun and wit that McKellen is likely to bring, The Graham Norton Show again is a good place to start. In one hilarious anecdote, he and actress Dame Judi Dench tried to find the thrones of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace during a “posh occasion.”
He recounted, “There behind this sort of partition were the thrones, so we sat on them! It brings out the worst in you, Buckingham Palace.”
Later in the interview, the veteran actor explained how he is preparing for the role of Gus in the film adaption of Cats. “I thought of going on a cat diet, you know, weekends just eating cat food. Yes, that’s out, but I’ve always thought that tinned cat food smells as if it might be rather tasty. It isn’t,” McKellen said.
Few details have been released about the tour’s specific content, as presented by Ambassador Theatre Group and directed by Sean Mathis. Because McKellen performed previously in many of these theatres, the anecdotes could likely differ from location to location and provide each city with its unique community experiences.
The tidbit about audience participation brings two questions to mind: How many audience members will McKellen invite to the stage? Is the time exclusively for acting or will it incorporate a mini Q&A?
While some cities are already sold out, others further out in 2019 have yet to sell tickets for Ian McKellen On Stage. The Edinburgh International Festival, one of the best arts festivals, won’t open its booking platform until late March. There’s still a chance to get tickets to this amazing 80th birthday party for Sir Ian McKellen!