A new column dedicated to events for fans in London, by our special correspondent Serena Cecchinato. Today, close meeting with Ian McKellen and his “Ian McKellen On Stage”
What if I told you, you could have a cup of tea with Gandalf and Shakespeare? That is exactly how the mesmerising “Ian McKellen On Stage” will make you feel.
After touring around the UK, this one-man show comes back to the West End at the beautiful Harold Pinter Theatre. Directed by Sean Mathias [who co-owns “The Grapes Pub” in London with McKellen], the show is a hymn to the magic of theatre and an ode to Ian McKellen’s life and career.
The stage setting is simple because the man doesn’t need any embellishment: he is already a work of art. A few carpets and a big box wait you on stage. The crowd is buzzing: it looks like all London is here. The hipsters, the theatre connoisseurs, the elderly couples, the students, the city guys, the rich, the poor: a rainbow of democracy, just showing how the genius and art of Sir Ian touch us all.
Then the lights go off and a very familiar song plays [no spoilers!]. I started crying immediately.
This man represents my childhood. Everyone’s childhood. And here it is, with his energy, characteristic voice and always present colourful scarf. I still can’t believe the man is 80 years old!
He takes you on a life journey full of anecdotes and wit. Though, while ours would be of little to no interest, his stories have Maggie Smith, Christopher Lee, Judie Dench, Kenneth Branagh and many, many more. If you are a fan of ANYTHING: chances are, Ian will have some special story for you. But most of all, he is a fan just like us and makes you feel as if he is sharing this experience just with you, specifically you-there sitting on row D with your glasses on, leaning towards him as if you could capture some of his magic and laughing and crying at every story as if you were two old friends catching up after a long time not seeing each other. It is magic in its purest form!
A special mention should be given to the light’s effects which smoothly transition from story to story, from Ian the man to Ian the character, from funny story to emotional moments. But if you are Sir Ian McKellen you don’t need that either: lights are just a way for the audience to immerse even more into the magic, to let them know it is all right to feel the way they are feeling….and to share a few tears without getting noticed!
The show is a hymn to theatre. As Ian says on stage “Theatre is now. Films are then”. As a huge films’ fan, this phrase struck a chord with me. What we see in films has already come to pass. The actors are not there anymore, they did then what you are experiencing now. In theater, you and the actors share a unique experience, together in this very moment. If you think about it, is there anything better than that? Is there anything better than sharing a cup of tea with Gandalf? I don’t think so!
As we fan know all too well, art, including theatre, is just a way to talk about things that matter and convey important messages making them easier to digest, easier to come to terms with. It’s easier to understand something if it’s happening to your favourite character. If something bad happens to them, wouldn’t you take it personal?? That is exactly why art is so important [and why fans can be a powerful force for good!].
Ian makes a couple of political jokes and his advocacy for LGBT+ communities is ever present: and boy did the audience respond to that! He also reminds us that we are still fighting some of the issues Shakespeare talks about in his plays over 500 years ago. A gently reminder that we have won some battles, but not all the wars.
It is also worth mentioning that all proceedings of the show and tour will go to different theatre charities, aiming at raising £3millions by the end of it, in January. Arts should indeed be for everyone.
“Ian McKellen on stage” is a beautiful, powerful show that speaks to everyone. Do yourself a favour and put the kettle on….with Gandalf!
Oh don’t forget to have tissues at the ready when he will read a poem to his late friends….including many central figures in fan culture… I have warned you.