Ian McKellen's 80th Birthday Tour, Part 1

Tea Time Tidbit for the week of April 22, 2019

Tea Time Tidbit

McGrigor Hall, in Frinton-on-Sea

In celebration of his 80th birthday on May 25th, earlier this year Sir Ian McKellen embarked on a nine-month-long tour of 80 theatres throughout the U.K.

Many of the venues for the one-man show are places with which Sir Ian has a personal connection, such as Wigan Little Theatre, where he saw his first Shakespeare production as a child, or London’s Duke of York theatre, where he made his West End debut in 1964. Some are places he’s never performed at, but for whom he knows his performance will raise much needed funds. All of the profits, for instance, at the Albert Halls Theatre in Bolton, the town the actor grew up in, will be used to help provide the theatre with new seating.

Tea Time Tidbit

Heather with Clive Brill

It was at one of the smallest venues on the tour, McGrigor Hall, in Frinton-on-Sea, just down the road from where my father lives, that I managed to snag a ticket. Sir Ian’s performance there was as a fundraiser for Frinton Summer Theatre – which itself turned 80 a couple of years ago and holds claim to be England’s longest running summer repertory theatre. McKellen was invited to include Frinton on his tour by the summer theatre’s producer and artistic director, Clive Brill.

Tea Time Tidbit

Inside McGrigor Hall

The show opened up with McKellen reciting a lengthy passage from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and although he held the book in his hand, McKellen barely – if at all - looked down. This was just one of many feats of memorization McKellen impressed me with during the course of the almost three-hour-long show. Another was his rendition of the poem "Gus: The Theatre Cat" from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

The actor’s body proved as agile as his mind as he spent the first half of the evening moving fluidly around the stage, taking us on a trip through his life, with the help of props and set pieces which he drew out of an enormous cardboard theatrical trunk.

Tea Time Tidbit

Gandalf’s hat atop his sword,
along with Sir Ian McKellen’s
collection of Shakespeare plays

With each reminiscence, McKellen became the characters he was talking about. The theatrical manager in Bolton for instance, who gave him his first back stage tour at the age of 10. His friends Sir John Gielgud and Derek Jacobi. The pantomime dame, Widow Twanky. The actor Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films and who apparently has taken to signing McKellen’s name for fans who mistake him for the wizard Gandalf who McKellen plays in the Lord of the Rings film series. Gandalf’s sword had made an appearance early on in the show when McKellen pulled it out of the trunk and handed it to a young audience member, whom he had invited to join him on stage for a mock battle.

Tea Time Tidbit

Heather with Sir Ian

One of the many funny anecdotes McKellen acted out was of when he received his knighthood. As he and others waited in a portrait-filled gallery to make their entrances, all was going smoothly, until the official in charge of giving them their final instructions as to what to do and what not to do when kneeling in front of the Queen, turned his back as he created the scenario for his listeners. Thus rendering them clueless as to the most important instructions of the ceremony.

I’ll have more about Sir Ian McKellen’s birthday show next week. In the meantime, we have a celebration of our own coming up. On Monday, April 29th, we’ll be welcoming back Last of the Summer Wine to our Afternoon Tea schedule. This long-running favorite will air each and every weekday at 1:30pm and we’ll be kicking off its return with the pilot episode of the series. Don’t miss it!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

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Afternoon Tea is Maryland Public Television's weekday presentation of British programs.
Our host and Tea Lady is Heather Sanderson.
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