McKellen to visit old haunts and amateur groups in 80th birthday tour
Ian McKellen will celebrate his 80th birthday next year by asking audience members to act alongside him as he goes on an 80-date live tour.
He will visit some of Britain’s grandest theatres but also amateur groups, fringe venues, pub theatres, drama schools and small arts centres, many of which have had a personal connection for the actor. “The show starts with Gandalf and will probably end with an invitation to act with me on stage,” says McKellen. “In between there will be anecdotes and acting.”
The tour begins in January with a two-night run at his local theatre, the Space, on the Isle of Dogs in east London. Later dates include Coventry’s Belgrade theatre, where he had his first professional job (“I stayed a year, on £8.50 a week”), Cambridge Arts theatre, where he acted as an undergraduate, and Wigan Little theatre, where he saw his first Shakespeare production as a child.
On the tour, McKellen will also perform in many theatres for the first time and will tailor his material to each venue. He will visit Above the Stag in Lambeth, south London, because “I wanted to make my debut at London’s only LGBT+ theatre. I will include my memories of the first production of Martin Sherman’s sensational Bent, words from Armistead Maupin and a few surprising gay characters in Shakespeare.”
He will celebrate the day itself, 25 May, with a show in Bolton, where he grew up and “discovered, in its three professional theatres, a passion for acting which has never faded. In the town hall, where my father was borough engineer, I’ll feel at home and grateful for all that Bolton nurtured in me.”
McKellen will visit the Duke of York’s theatre in the West End, where he made his London debut in 1964 and recently returned to star in No Man’s Land, with Patrick Stewart, and King Lear, which closed last week.
The solo tour concludes at the National Theatre’s vast Olivier stage, where McKellen has previously starred in Coriolanus, The Real Inspector Hound and a brief solo show about Shakespeare. Profits from the tour will benefit specific causes at each theatre, from technical improvements to community outreach programmes.
Sir Ian McKellen appears as Richard II in 1969, with Lucy Fleming. Left, Ian McKellen