British actor Sir Ian McKellen is downing his pointy hat and travelling New Zealand's "Middle Earth" to raise funds for the repair of the Issac Theatre Royal in central Christchurch.
In 2010, McKellen (Gandalf in Lord of the Rings), performed as Estragon in Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot at Isaac Theatre Royal.
The earthquake-damaged theatre is undergoing restoration.
Ian McKellen On Stage with Shakespeare, Tolkien and You! a national New Zealand solo theatre tour includes a show in Hamilton this Saturday.
McKellen feels a close association with Christchurch and its theatre, and is devastated at the condition of the city.
"I was allowed to go into the centre of Christchurch into the red zone where locals have not been allowed and it is a very curious atmosphere," he said.
"There are no people walking around and it is devastation wherever you look. It is very bewildering. Then you come across a building like the Isaac Theatre Royal which clearly needs help.
"It is rescuable and can then remain a memory of what the city used to look like."
While McKellen's tour is sponsored with support from ASB Bank "every cent from the box office and every cent you drop in my bucket is going to the theatre".
He promises his shows will have a real Kiwi flavour.
"I have done quite a few solo shows in the past, one about Shakespeare, one about being gay but this one is very much in response to the times; it will be a real Kiwi effort where the focus is on spontaneity."
McKellen wants to have fun and said if punters wanted to ask about a specific play, role or anything they just need to shout out.
"I will do a bit of acting including Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings and I will talk about anything anybody wants to know."
A globally respected actor for more than 40 years, writer and blogger, McKellen also has a passion for promoting legal and social equality for gay people worldwide.
Campaigning for many years, McKellen said: "there has been enormous changes. "We are now in a period of flux where old laws are seen to be cruel and unnecessary, and they are gradually dropping off the constitutional tree as it were."
And he said, New Zealand led the way for change.
"New Zealand had gotten to grips before many other civilised places of this unnecessary problem so rooted in the past where people saw gay people as so different and that they had to be treated differently by the law.
"I have done a few bits in the UK and I have noticed a great deal of change for the better."
But he said some parts of Britain had a long way to go.
"There are some places there where gay people are thought to be second-class citizens and they are treated like that by the law.
"So the battle goes on but not in New Zealand."
His favourite battles are those featured in Lord of the Rings when as Gandalf, he rides his horse Shadowfax over the misty mountains.
McKellen said he enjoys his many roles and whether he is playing Gandalf, Richard III, King Lear or acting as con-artist Mel Hutchinson in Coronation Street, he is not a snob.
"The first performance I ever saw from a glimpse backstage was of singers and stand-up comedians.
"I have always been in awe of comedians like Billy Connolly who at the moment I am working with. I also saw a lot of pantomime when I was a kid but I have never been a snob about it.
"I never thought Shakespeare is best; he is but he is not the only thing you need in a theatre, you need everyone from Roger Hall to Flight Of The Conchords."
McKellen's first real break on to the big screen was his lead role in Richard III in 1995.
"Richard III was performed at the National Theatre in London with great success. We were touring it around the United States, so I said to the director `wouldn't this make a great movie?'
"He said, well if you are going to do a movie you had better write a script."
Using Shakespeare's words and "with a few cuts and changes", McKellen produced the film Richard III which also starred Maggie Smith, (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).
"But I will never do it again. As a producer you spend too much time talking to people you don't really like, trying to squeeze out a few extra dollars from them," he said.
Once it was complete, McKellen said he was very, very pleased with it and Richard III became the launching pad for many more successful film roles.
"Up until Richard III, most people thought `Oh McKellen he just shouts a lot in theatres'.
"But when I delivered that film they thought `oh maybe we can trust him with other stuff'."
Offers followed thick and fast and McKellen featured in a host of movies, including The Da Vinci Code, Lord of The Rings and X-Men: The Movie.
"I am a very lucky guy at this end of my life to suddenly discover those wonderful parts to play.
Whether acting in films or performing theatre roles, McKellen said it was all about discipline.
"And what separates the differences in discipline is the level of intensity with which you deliver a performance.
"Obviously something that would be appropriate for Clarence Street Theatre in Hamilton would not necessarily be appropriate in front of a movie camera in Wellington.
"It's all the same really but I do like the technique of acting, it intrigues me.
"And I still like to keep in touch with theatre because I miss it, so it will be good for me to get up on the stage and live by my wits for a bit on this tour around New Zealand."
McKellen points out that his show is for everyone "kids included, I know I have some fans who are kids, everyone is welcome to my show, it will be fun".
In Wellington filming Peter Jacksons' The Hobbit, McKellen said his role as Gandalf was nearly complete but he did not finish until July.
And he has great news for Hobbit fans.
"You are going to be thrilled to bits. It looks like no other movie you have ever seen. The definition on screen, the new technology, it really is amazing."
At 73 years of age, McKellen said "I have never been in a musical but there is time, I suppose."
Sir Ian McKellen with Shakespeare, Tolkien and You!
May 12, 7.30pm: Clarence St Theatre, Hamilton
May 13, 2.00pm: Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga
May 20, 2.00pm & 7.30pm: Theatre Royal, Nelson
May 26, 8.00pm: Q, Auckland | SOLD OUT
May 27, 2.00pm: Q, Auckland | SOLD OUT
June 2, 7.30pm: Aurora Centre, Christchurch | SOLD OUT
June 3, 2.00pm: Court Theatre at Addington, Christchurch SOLD OUT
June 9, 7.30pm: Lake Wanaka Centre | SOLD OUT
June 10, 2.00pm: Lake Wanaka Centre
June 16, 7.30pm: Hawkes Bay Opera House, Hastings
June 23, 7.30pm: Opera House, Wellington |
June 24, 2.00pm: Events Centre, Carterton | SOLD OUT
- Hamilton Press
- © Fairfax NZ News