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 I haven't been to the Park Theatre before. It's a small space. The larger of the two theatres, which we were in, seats just 200 people. (there is a smaller one seating 90), so it's a very intimate space - it reminded me of the Donmar, but slightly smaller.


My seat was in the front row of the circle, looking down on the left hand side of the stage.


The show was titled Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others and You. 


Once we were all seated, the theatre was plunged into total darkness and music from Lord of the Rings rang out, and the lights came up to Ian McKellan reading aloud from the part of 'The Fellowship of the Ring' where Gandalf battles the Blarog on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, proclaiming "You cannot pass". (After reaching the end of the passage, McKellan pointed out that the films get this wrong, as the words "You shall not pass" never appear in the book - it is 'cannot' every time!).


And were were off! McKellan started by talking a little about filming the Tolkien stories (including giving an excellent Christopher Lee impression, and giving one lucky chap in the front row the opportunity to draw and wield Glamdring, briefly). He also talked about meeting Sir Edmund Hillary, (he asked Peter Jackson whether it might be possible to arrange a meeting with Hillary, and was told to just look him up in the phone book and give him a ring!) and asking him whether it was true that he and Sherpa Tensing are Kendal Mint Cake on Everest (they did).


He then gave us a broadly chronological tour of his early life and influences, starting with a dramatic rendition of "Three Blind Mice" (the earliest poem he learned) and his first trip to the theatre, to see 'Peter Pan', at the age of 3.


We heard about his time watching variety from backstage at a Bolton theatre as a teenager, involvement in school plays, his interview for university and early stage performances, and his experience of coming out to his family.


The reminiscences were backed up with quotes and readings, including Dickens (from Bleak House), Wordsworth ('The Prelude') , and Gerard Manly Hopkins ('The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo') Oh, and a bit of Widow Twanky!

 

 

 

After the interval, it was Shakespeare all the way. Well, almost.

 

Ian McKellan started by challenging us, the audience, to name all of the Shakespeare plays, in alphabetical order (which we did), while he passed a few comments (including pointing out that Shakespeare wasn't that good at titles!), and then gave us the pleasure of hearing him give some wonderful Shakesperean speeches, from some of his more memorable roles.

 

Ian McKellan after the show

So we heard 'The Seven Ages of Man', from As You Like It,  Aufidius's speech welcoming Coriolanus, , the 'Rogue and Peasant Slave' speech from Hamlet, (He was rude about his own Hamlet, very complimentary about Andrew Scott's current performance)   Justice Shallow, from Henry IV Pt.2... He asked if we wanted some King Lear, and then told us we weren't getting any as he is saving it for  later this year.

 

 Then we moved on to Romeo's 'But soft what light' speech, and a little of Juliet's reply, (and learned that  Shakespeare never mentions any balcony, it's just a theatrical tradition which has stuck!) 


What else? Richard II's 'Hollow Crown' speech.. Macbeth's speech from Act 5, on the death of Lady Macbeth ('Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow') with a little discourse on Macbeth and Richard III,  and Richard, unlike Macbeth, having no conscience.


Finally, we had 'Fear no more the heat of the sun', from Cymbeline, before the penultimate speech, which was the 'Strangers' speech from the play 'Sir Thomas More'; the speech having the distinction of being the only part of Shakespeare's writing we have in his own handwriting:


"You’ll put down strangers, 

Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses, 

And lead the majesty of law in lyam 

To slip him like a hound; alas, alas, say now the King, 

As he is clement if th’offender mourn, 

Should so much come too short of your great trespass 

As but to banish you: whither would you go? 

What country, by the nature of your error, 

Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders, 

To any German province, Spain or Portugal, 

Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England, 

Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d 

To find a nation of such barbarous temper 

That breaking out in hideous violence 

Would not afford you an abode on earth. 

Whet their detested knives against your throats, 

Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God 

Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements 

Were not all appropriate to your comforts, 

But charter’d unto them? What would you think 

To be us’d thus? This is the strangers’ case 

And this your mountainish inhumanity."


This appeared to be the end, but only appeared...

For an announcement was made, asking whether anyone had ever wanted the opportunity to appear on stage with Sir Ian. Well, who could resist?*

(*7/8 of the audience, it seems )


So, along with about 25 others, I made my way onto the stage, where we all went into a secret huddle so Ian could give us his directions, while the rest of the audience talked among themselves.


I must confess, that our performances did not require an enormous amount of acting skill, not did nay of us have a speaking role, but perhaps, given the lack of rehearsal (or, indeed, auditions) it was probably just as well.


So, you know the part in Henry V when Henry is given a list of the French and English dead, after Agincourt? And Henry gives a speech, starting 'This note doth tell me of ten thousand French, that in the field lie slain'


Sir Ian explained that the text refers to a list, but that the piece of paper is often blank, and then started a mournful litany of French names.. many of which may sound familiar, although not ... Beaune, Burgundy, Moet and Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, and so on..


We were those French dead - on cue, we all dropped 'dead' (It is, I will have you know, harder than you might think to lie entirely dead and unmoving while Ian McKellan is giving the worlds most mournful wine-list!). And then, (again on cue)  we all revived, in order to take our curtain call. Which may have involved me holding Sir Ian's hand...


It was a wonderful show, the chance to wallow in so much impeccably performed Shakespeare was a real luxury and the rest felt conversational and relaxed.


When I booked my ticket, I chose to spend an extra £30 for 'a moment with Sir Ian' after the show, when those of us who had signed up got to briefly meet with Sir Ian, and have a photograph (and autograph if we wanted) .


I have no idea who this chap was but he clearly picked the right short for his meet-and-greet!


I don't normally post photos of myself on the blog, but sometimes, it has to be done...


Me, and Sir Ian!

 

He's a very nice man, is Ian McKellan. A very, very, nice man. Can't wait to see King Lear in September.

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