McKellen weaves his magic to enthral crowd

01:38, Jun 25 2012
ian mckellen
INSTANT ENSEMBLE: Sir Ian McKellen performs at the Clarence St Theatre in Hamilton during his tour. Audience participation is an important part of his show.

Theatre: Ian McKellen On Stage

Opera House, Saturday night

Reviewed by Ewen Coleman

You have to wonder whether even Richie McCaw and Dan Carter could elicit such a rousing reception as that given to Sir Ian McKellen in his one-man show Ian McKellen on Stage, which played at the Opera House on Saturday night.

When not filming The Hobbit, McKellen has been touring with his show, raising money for Christchurch's earthquake-damaged Isaac Theatre Royal. And it has been incredibly popular, as his penultimate show in Wellington proved.

Rarely do the Opera Houses boxes, those alcoves on either side of the stage, get used to house an audience, but such was the interest in this great actor that all eight were full for this performance.


And what a performance from a man described by one member of the audience as "the last of the gentleman actors".

For two hours this great man of the stage regaled his audience with stories and recitations that were presented without a microphone but with style, poise, great articulation and an amazing warmth and empathy.

To the delight of the audience he started with Gandalf's speech confronting the Balrog on the bridge near the end of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring.

He then talked about Tolkien, his early life in Cambridge and people he has worked with covering 50 years in film and on the stage in Britain and America, his anecdotes at times uproariously funny.

This included the audience asking questions, which, regardless of the question or how far back the topic referred to, he was able to answer in great detail. Playing Hitler in the movie Countdown To War, working with Ava Gardner, meeting Nelson Mandela, growing up gay, coping with stage fright - they were all canvassed with great eloquence and animation.

These were not rehearsed questions and the consummate way he was able to react showed the mark of the man.

The first half ended with a rendition of the poem The Leaden Echo from one of his favourite poets, Gerald Manley Hopkins.

The second half was devoted entirely to his love of Shakespeare. Opening with Jaques speech from As You Like It - "All the world's a stage" - he proceeded to ask the audience to call out each of Shakespeare's 37 plays. Not only was this a clever device of engaging the audience but allowed him to hone in on specific aspects of a play that he had a particular affinity with, often a character that he had played.

Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Coriolanus, Richard II and the often-quoted verse from Cymbeline - "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" - were all superbly executed from memory.

His articulation and expression of Shakespearean language was masterly and many could have stayed long into the night to listen to this great man of stage and screen.

The Dominion Post