Sir Ian had put on a week of exclusive charitable performances of this play to raise funds for the plucky little North London theatre venue, which receives no public subsidy for its costs.
The show was a tour-de-force ride through the myriad plays and films he has graced over the course of his fifty-year career, encompassing Shakespeare’s tragic heroes Romeo and Macbeth through pantomime-era Widow Twanky and, most anticipatedly, his iconic outing as wizard Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, which he acted out with particular gusto early on in the performance, also inviting onto the stage a lucky spectator to try on his pointy wizard hat and sword for an onstage selfie to dine out on for decades to come.
It was the audience participation elements that elevated the show above being a mere career retrospective, with a Shakespeare quiz and show-stopping skit making use of the theatre’s staff members thrown in for good measure.
Theatre director Jez Bond revealed at the end of the show that Ian’s week of performances, alongside his other appearances at charity dinners and aftershow meet-and-greets, had raised an incredible total of £250,000 for the theatre, which sparked a round of applause so loud it could probably have been heard by theatregoers in the West End.
Another masterstroke that also injected a significant amount of funds into the pot was a limited-edition Ian McKellen souvenir wine available to buy only at the theatre, of which only 1800 bottles were produced by Tikveš of Macedonia, the oldest and largest winery in South-East Europe. I enjoyed several glasses of this collector’s item vintage before and after the show, and was chuffed to be able to take a bottle home with me, as did everyone else who had bought a ticket.
Sir Ian emerged into the upstairs bar area following the show to pose for photos but was quickly overwhelmed by fans so had to take his leave a bit sooner than expected, but his work here is already done.
“Ian has been a staunch supporter since the building was a hard-hat site,” said director Jez Bond before the show. “He’s donated his time to help raise vital funds by performing this show. I continue to be humbled by his incredible generosity.”
One can only hope that there will be a reprise of Ian’s unique show at some point and a return of the special McKellen wine – limited-edition is all well and good but once it’s over, that’s it.
In the mean time, Park Theatre’s doors remain open all year (www.parktheatre.co.uk) and you can keep tabs on Sir Ian’s next moves at his own website www.mckellen.com