Those upon whom we bestow the title “national treasure” usually react to the status with false modesty or run a mile from being identified in that way. One such “treasure” is (Sir – he prefers not to use the knighthood unless he must) Ian McKellen, who now he has entered his octogenarian years, is embarking on a national tour of a one man show. Not just any 80-year-old however, a star of stage and screen who is also a campaigner and philanthropist. The profits from the run will go to various theatres and arts related charities and causes. The show has been marketed as “Tolkien, Shakespeare, and You” (Harold Pinter Theatre) and the second half is very much that, as he effortlessly switches from Macbeth to Widow Twanky using nothing more than a shopping bag and a paper hanky.
He shows no signs of slowing down and when he seamlessly moves into a recitation of T S Eliot’s Gus the Theatre Cat he had us eating out of his hands. A subtle hint perhaps that he is playing the role in the soon to be released film version of Cats. Self-publicity forgiven because of aforementioned benevolence. Yet with a career that has seen him travel the world, perform in some of the most unlikely places, trodden the boards with the equally great and good it is the personal moments that are the most telling and inspiring. He takes little credit for advancing the cause of the LGBT community and playing a key role in convincing successive governments to pass legislation to equalise human rights. He continues that work today.
His passion for local and regional theatre is undimmed and you feel a furnace of fury burning within, despite his pathos, at the closing of three particular theatres in Bolton, where he spent much of his adolescence. Humour is a constant so as we digest his commitment to causes he peppers the evening with hilarious anecdotes that range from the silly to the salacious without every crossing that imaginary “line” which makes the bawdy base. One particular aside about having his first erection in the very theatre in which we found ourselves triggered raucous laughter. A show that lasts over two and a half hours suggests a step too far yet his wit, self deprecation and epigrammatic material, as well as a condensed riotous romp through all the plays of Shakespeare, gives the impression he could have gone on for a lot longer without ever becoming tiresome.
I entered the Harold Pinter as a sceptic (not a great fan of one person self-indulgence which can happen) and left as an admirer of the man and the actor. Magari na ime j’eyo etsi sdin iligia dou…if I make it to eighty.
And Rose Goodenough sees contemporary references eighty years later…
Patrick Hamilton wrote Gaslight (Yvonne Arnaud) in 1938 and this absorbing play adaptation of his book, deftly directed by Lucy Bailey is a disconcerting ride as it delves into the undergrowth of coercive relationships. Ostensibly it is a Victorian drama about a couple, Bella and Jack, who have come to a bit of a crisis in their lives. He blames her for behaving erratically yet she has no memory of doing the things of which she is accused. She is not helped when Rough turns up, a stranger, who tries to convince her all is not what it seems with husband Jack. Confusion reigns and the poor woman is pulled this way and that in search of the truth but amnesia has set in so what entails is a very bumpy ride.
In fact, spoiler alert, he is deliberately trying to drive her crazy to distract from his criminal activities. Charlotte Emerson is slightly too melodramatic as Bella which is no surprise in trying to portray insanity while James Wiley is an oleaginous and deceitful Jack. Veteran Martin Shaw stands out as Rough in a clever nuanced performance. The design suits the tenor of the piece, an optical illusion almost, a room with a view so to speak. A fascinating and depressingly topical play. Male coercion lives.
Ian McKellen on Stage’ – 0844 871 7622
Gaslight – on tour

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