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Magic of the actor's art

By Margaret Chrystall

REVIEW: Sir Ian McKellen ...

Eden Court

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IN the end it took just two or three minutes for Gandalf to cast his spell.

No scenery, not even the bridge, but a world of Tolkien’s making sprang up from Eden Court’s empty stage in our imaginations, all from the wizard’s famous words “YOU – SHALL – NOT – PASS!”

Portraying the great wizard Gandalf and his power was the perfect place to start the night.

The magic let us look into some of the actor’s most famous roles, see how it felt to hear the words and watch him turn into these people. And some cats. Well one.

Actor and equalities campaigner Ian McKellen celebrates his 80th birthday this year by performing in 80 theatres across the country to raise money for each venue.

The first half had its pinch-me moments. Out of his large actor’s box just off centre stage, Ian drew Gandalf’s sword, Glamdring. And then he called audience member Emma to the stage for the chance to hold the sword.

“Would you like a selfie?” asked Ian to gasps from a crowd imagining how great that would be. And then he grabbed Gandalf’s hat, plonked it on his head and lined up with Emma for the greatest picture that the rest of us will never have.

Warmest moments included Ian’s description of his family of preachers and teachers on Sundays. But it only took a family trip with three-year-old Ian to his first panto, Peter Pan in Manchester, for his fate in theatre to be set.

“Dad whispered we had to go before the end. I looked back at the backcloth covered in little stars in Neverland and I thought ‘I want more of this. I’m coming back!” he told us.

But as Peter Pan demands, Ian had also clapped to show he believed in fairies. “I’ve been clapping ever since,” he grinned at us, stories of his sexuality and future career wrapped up in his early theatrical experiences.

As well as the meaning of panto in his life, Ian treated the audience to other bigmoments – extracts from “Shhhh, the Scottish play”, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Coriolanus, and Sir Thomas More, Shakespeare’s last-ever role to be performed, debuted by Ian himself.

As You Like It’s ‘All the world’s a stage...’ speech and his exquisite reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sensual ageing parable The Leaden Echo/ The Golden Echo, reminded what a great actor can do with mere words.

Sir Ian McKellen visit is ighlight of 2019.
Sir Ian McKellen visit is ighlight of 2019.

To the crowd’s delight, he grabbed a headscarf and a shopping bag to become panto dame Widow Twankey in a celebration of all he loved in panto – including successfully launching sweets in traditional style all over the auditorium to a delighted crowd.

Revealing he had taken advice from an experienced pantomime dame before treading the boards under his own steam, Ian said: “He told me two things. The first was ‘Warm your bra on the radiator’.”

Such an actor can make magic out of just a big box and a dark stage.

At the end when the lights went up, the stage was empty, but for the box – until Ian bounced out as one last great surprise.

James Mackenzie-Blackman the theatre’s chief executive was delighted with the way the evening went.

A total of £4,000 was raised from the audience by programmes and from buckets for donations, including one Sir Ian took through the theatre as the audience left afterwards. After the show he joined the Under Canvas audience, encountering bagpipes and meeting the young traditional musicians.

James said on Tuesday: “One of the things I’ve really noticed since I have been in the Highlands is all the various barriers to access that there are to Eden and we felt really strongly that this was a duty for us, to reduce some of these barriers.”

In total, the night raised £30,000.

Eden Court’s chief executive added: “These funds will be specifically about paying for coaches and reducing ticket prices so that young people can find it possible to come to Eden Court.”

Some of James’s own favourite moments from Sir Ian’s time at Eden Court included his memories of the actor’s first theatre experience – going to the panto Peter Pan in Manchester when he was just three.

James said: “I adored the whole panto section and his telling the story of how panto changed his life because it reminded me that panto changed my life too.

“I also loved the whole beautiful section where we got to see his Widow Twankey and he retold these stories.

“Another special memory for me was the way the building came alive and everyone gave him such a rousing welcome, a real Highland welcome was in the air.

“Also he went out afterwards and hung out Under Canvas and spent time with the young musicians and was looking at the bagpipes. He was really complimentary of the whole experience of being with us for the day. He said that we had a beautiful venue and that he felt really looked after and at home.

“I feel like a very proud dad – I feel very proud of the whole Eden Court team.”

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