Stirring words from acting great enthral Stratford

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 05:00 07/05/2012
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JONATHAN CAMERON
SHOW STOPPER: Sir Ian McKellen slayed his audience at the King's Theatre in Stratford on Saturday night.

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Gandalf, Magneto, Hamlet and Richard III were all present in Stratford on Saturday night.

And so were many other characters as film and theatre great Sir Ian McKellen opened his national one-man show at the town's King's Theatre.

It was McKellen's second trip to Stratford, after a desire to visit the town, which has 67 streets named after Shakespeare's characters, struck him last year.

"I noticed a street named Regan St. Now I'm not sure if you realise who Regan was, but she was a terrible woman – a psychopathic torturer.

"I wouldn't like to have Regan St as my address," he said.

McKellen opened his show with a powerful reading from his Lord of the Rings character Gandalf, before inviting audience members up to hold Gandalf's sword, Glamdring.

The Englishman's relaxed and charming story-telling during a question and answer session that followed proved a real treat for the audience.

Questions prompted a song from McKellen, tales about his acting alongside Judi Dench, and an insight into life on the Lord of the Rings set.

A brief sounding of Stratford's fire siren halfway through the show was the only thing to distract the audience from McKellen's captivating performance.

"It's a bit unnerving to be up here on stage listening to the warning sound for the rest of the town," he joked.

Part two of the show was dedicated solely to Shakespeare, and saw McKellen perform former roles from Romeo to Richard III.

Shakespearean mastermind Ida Gaskin kept McKellen on his toes when he challenged the audience to name all 37 of Shakespeare's works.

"There's 38," she advised him.

After explaining the criteria by which he qualified each play, 37 was agreed upon.

The audience had no trouble crossing each one off the list, which McKellen then signed and gave to Mrs Gaskin as a souvenir.

"We'll get it framed. This will be an heirloom to hand down through the family," she said.

Mrs Gaskin was blown away by McKellen's performance and said watching him perform Shakespeare made her feel slightly nostalgic.

"It's not often I'm lost for words but I'm speechless after that," she said.

"I could have sat here for another two hours."

At the end of the show, McKellen made actors out of about 30 audience members, who joined him on stage for an impromptu act where they played dead French soldiers.

King's Theatre manager Barry Milner said McKellen's appearance at the theatre had done wonders for raising its profile.

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"We don't get a full house very often, so it's been great. It's good to shake the old theatre up a bit – we're not used to it."

All proceeds from McKellen's tour will go towards the restoration of Christchurch's Isaac Theatre Royal.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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