In the darkened theatre a noisy symphonic fanfare heralds the voice of Gandalf the Grey, disguised as the renowned thespian Sir Ian McKellen.
He's a slender, fit-looking man, moving with an ease that defies his years (he'll be 73 on Friday) and he carries a long sword – Glamdring.
Gandalf/McKellen re-enacts the escape from the mines of Moria across the narrow stone Bridge of Khazad-dum.
The fellowship members dash across the narrow stone bridge, leaving Gandalf to deal with one last foe.
Although the others escape, the wizard stays to face the Balrog, Durin's Bane, whom he sends to the abyss, only to be dragged down himself by a last twitch of the monster's whip.
A convincing performance despite the street clothes and the lack of props.
In the movie (and the book), Gandalf is thought lost forever, but of course he returns, cleansed, as Gandalf the White.
In the Theatre Royal, he just continues to play the part of Sir Ian McKellen.
McKellen took a very literal view of Shakespeare's quote "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."
There's never a time when we're not acting, he said.
From the time we choose our clothes in the morning, until we go to bed at night, we play our part, depending on the audience – family, workmates, or in his case a movie camera or a theatre full of people.
After the opening drama, he invited audience members to come and hold the sword.
And so they did, more than 20 dashed up – this was an audience that wanted to be loved.
They waved the sword around in various dramatic versions of how they would slay monsters, but it was left to one small girl to deliver the coup de grace, as she drove Glamdring into the stomach of the hapless McKellen, who obliged with a suitably dramatic, gurgling death.
The show went on – a collection of readings from memory and anecdotes, some in answer to audience questions.
McKellen has a prodigious memory and seemed to be able to deliver the appropriate quote to answer any question.
Many related to the Lord of the Rings, or his current project, The Hobbit.
He told of how Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh visited him in London and asked him to take on the Gandalf role, apparently the third choice after Sean Connery and Anthony Hopkins.
After the break he did Shakespeare, he dropped names (he's acted with almost every serious actor you could imagine), he delivered soliloquies, he charmed the audience, and in a grand finale he had about 30 audience members join in a witty re-enactment.
He really is a wizard.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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