Tauranga audiences will welcome acting royalty in May. Sir Ian McKellen, in New Zealand filming The Hobbit, is shedding his Gandalf garb at the weekends that month and June to tour the country with a special one-man show to raise funds to restore Christchurch's quake-damaged Isaac Theatre Royal. Vibe caught up with the actor on a break from Middle Earth.
"There will be no censorship with this show. You don't need to submit questions in advance and I will try to answer every question," says actor Sir Ian McKellen.
In fact the brand new Ian McKellen On Stage will involve the audience as much as possible, including a chance to act with Sir Ian on stage.
The first half of the show will focus on Sir Ian's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit wizard character, Gandalf, as the actor discusses how he became involved with the films.
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In the second half, Sir Ian's subject will be Shakespeare and he will discuss plays, films and roles, interrupted by the occasional speech and soliloquy. The show will finish with members of the audience being invited to "play" dead French soldiers while Sir Ian delivers a stirring final speech.
"I have done a number of solo shows in the UK, US, South Africa and now New Zealand, mostly for charity. Acting Shakespeare toured the world for 10 years but has now been retired. A Knight Out was about acting and being gay."
The question he gets asked most often "How do you act so well?" is a favourite from fans of Ricky Gervais' Extras.
Although the Lord of the Rings trilogy makes Sir Ian most known as a movie star and, although he recently appeared on the small screen fulfilling his lifelong ambition to appear in Coronation Street, the actor remains passionate about theatre.
He has appeared in plays ancient and modern at the UK National Theatre, for the Royal Shakespeare Company and on tour worldwide.
"Theatre has survived radio, cinema, television and the internet, which were all expected to destroy it. Of course, fashions change, things aren't what they used to be but telling stories in a public place is as old as the human race. In the UK, more people go to a theatre each year than attend a soccer match."
Since the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the X-Men movies, he has acted in work by Strindberg, Beckett, Chekhov, Shakespeare, Mark Ravenhill, Eduardo De Filippo - and as Widow Twankey in the pantomime Aladdin. In New Zealand, he has toured in King Lear and in Waiting for Godot.
The Shakespearean character he relates to most is Richard 11's uncle, the Duke of York, who does his best in troubled times to preserve the peace and retain political sanity but fails.
When Sir Ian started acting in 1961, he earned £8 a week. "These days, most actors, most of the time, are unemployed. There are very few rich actors."
It is this passion for the boards that is driving his desire to help Christchurch. "The last time I was on stage in New Zealand was in 2010 at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Waiting for Godot," Sir Ian says. "I love this beautiful old theatre and want to help restore it as soon as possible.
"I was in New Zealand at the time of the earthquake, filming in Wellington with Mark Hadlow, a Christchurch resident, who kept me in touch with the horror of it all."
Sir Ian has come to know New Zealand through filming The Lord of the Rings and, openly gay himself, admires the Kiwi attitude to diversity. "On gay issues, New Zealand has often led the way internationally and, on race issues, I admire government's determination to deal with it equitably."
He also recognises the talent here. "New Zealand has talent. Witness the brilliant Kiwi actors playing dwarves, elves and orcs in The Hobbit movies."
And in a country often criticised for being culturally naive compared with Europe, Sir Ian says Shakespeare has its place. "I'm opening my new solo show, Ian McKellen On Stage, at Stratford-upon-Patea, where 67 streets are named after characters from Shakespeare's plays. I bet they can quote him."
The Fine Print
What: Ian McKellen on stage.
When: Sunday, May 13, 2pm.
Where: Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga.
Price: $50* adults and $25* students/children (*service fees apply in some centres). Book at TicketDirect 0800 224 224 or www.ticketdirect.co.nz
- Supported by Tauranga Arts Festival