Shakespeare Tolkien And You At The Q Part 1

I apologise for the lateness, but yesterday was a very busy day, and I was too exhausted to blog by the end of it.

As I announced on 17th April, I went to see Ian McKellan perform his one-man-show at the Q theatre yesterday at 2:30pm. It was brilliant. I was truly awe-struck by the depth of knowledge Sir Ian displayed, as well as extremely amused, entertained, rapt and humbled in turn.

First of all, let me state that you can read some really good reviews online, and also that there are shows still available, as Sir Ian is continuing to tour New Zealand.

Now, for my own half-remembered version… (I was very excited)It took us a while to find the theatre, as it was quite new, but we arrived with 15  minutes to spare, and climbed excitedly to the balcony seats which we had reserved  (much) earlier. My mother, who only vaguely knows who Gandalf is from the movies, and was never educated with Shakespeare as it is not taught in Israel, came with me and three extremely excited friends who were avid LOTR fans and loved Sir Ian McKellen. We sat down, and a while later, the lights dimmed and the audience became silent…then, from the darkness, a voice cried out “‘Now for the last race!’ said Gandalf. ‘if the sun is shining outside, we may still escape. After me!'” and as Sir Ian McKellen continued to narrate ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’, a circle of yellow light faded into existence and followed him as he strode to the forefront of the stage. Without pausing or looking at any text, Sir Ian recited all the way until Gandalf’s last cry of “‘Fly, you fools!'” as the Balrog plunges him into the abyss.

After this dramatic and moving entrance, Sir Ian introduced himself, and started talking about Lord Of The Rings and his experiences. He showed us Glamdring, the light fighting sword that he used in the battle with the Balrog, pulling off some fancy moves before offering it to the audience – and quickly moving away from a man who held it, explaining that earlier in the tour,  someone had tried to ‘kill him’ with it. He also showed off the new ring he requested be made by the same jewellers who made Sauron’s One Ring, and his green chair, which had Gandalf embroidered on it in gold. Amusingly, Sir Ian asked for a programme for the audience after relaying a whole lot of in-depth and broad knowledge about J.R.R. Tolkien and asking the crowd what his initials stood for, as he “didn’t really know” what he had promised to do in the show. After reading out that he would talk about Tolkien and his Lord Of The Rings experience, recite a Wordworth poem and a Hopkins one, and sing his favourite song (he wasn’t too sure about this one), Sir Ian thanked the audience member, returning the programme. This was an easy, interactive way of reminding everyone what was going to happen.

He then opened the floor to questions, saying that this half of the show relied on them and so if anybody had ever wanted to ask him anything – what it was like to meet the Queen, or work with actors like Judi Dench and Arnold Schwarzenegger, or anything they’d like to ask Gandalf, he was willing to answer, and that now was the time! This led to many interesting answers – Sir Ian took care to give each reply with thought and effort. An amusing tale he told us was in answer to a question that one of the audience members put forward about a rumour that was circulating. What had happened was that a “cruel and meanspirited” law known as Section 28 was trying to be passed through parliament in England to make talking about, even mentioning, the word homosexual or gay in anything but a derogatory way illegal in state schools. Sir Ian, being gay himself, utterly objected to this, and so he went to see the Minister who was in charge of putting it through parliament, Michael Howard. They had a lively discussion, and of course disagreed with each other completely, but as Sir Ian was leaving the house, Howard took out a book, and asked him to please autograph it for his daughter. Now, the rumour was that Sir Ian had written “F*** off, I’m gay!”, but Sir Ian set this to right, explaining that while this was perhaps what he would have liked to have written, he just signed his name on the book like a “good boy”.

When asked what his favourite place was in New Zealand (this seems to be a common question, as it is mentioned in several different reviews), Sir Ian claimed that it was Milford Sounds, which he had visited 6 times this year already, and that he always took his friends there. From this, he rejoined with some of William Wordworth’s blank verse autobiography called “The Prelude”, in which  a young Wordsworth steals a boat and rows out to the lake, seeing an ‘elfin pinnace’, and returns with dark images back to the shore. The rich imagery used by Wordsworth, Sir Ian claimed, made it almost Tolkien-like, and the place that he was describing, while being both Wordsworth Sir Ian’s childhood home, could almost be part of a New Zealand landscape.

Sir Ian also spouted off a few interesting facts, such as that throughout the three LOTR movies, red blood is never seen because Sir Peter Jackson thought that perhaps the censurers wouldn’t notice all the violence if there was no red blood. Personally, I don’t think works. He also brought up the other two topics that censurers are concerned with; sex, and drugs. Tolkien was obviously “not excited by sex”, Sir Ian claims, as there is a very clear lack of any sort of romance, really, barring a few marriages, in LOTR. This was, of course, because, as Sir Ian pointed out, he did not believe there was a steamy relationship going on between Sam and Frodo. He also complained at the lack of ablutions in the books and movies, and said that he had petitioned with Sir Peter Jackson to have Gandalf taking a leak in The Hobbit (in 3D), but that it was ruled out. As for drugs – Sir Ian was quick to note that not only is the author himself pictured smoking on the back cover of the books, but that throughout LOTR, everybody smokes! The very last line of The Hobbit, as he read out, was Biblo Baggins offering Gandalf some tobacco!

Another story which Sir Ian regaled us was his knighting, which was described in some detail. It was hilarious, because after Sir Ian (then simply Ian) and his fellow award and medal winners got to the corridor outside the Audience Hall, the Minister who was taking them in announced that ‘if they could please not…’and then he turned around and mumbled the rest…‘because it was very important’, then walked out. Sir Ian acted this out, and then proceeded to tell the audience how all the people (all of them prominent, important figures of some sort) began panicking because they didn’t know what not to do, and how he and a fellow recipient had to calm everyone down and tell them to “just do what the person in front does”. Then, when the Chamberlain called out Sir Ian’s name, he distorted both his first and last name, so that at first Ian did not recognise himself, and then as he knelt down before the Queen, all he could think was that he must have been mispronouncing his own name for his entire life.

To end the first half of the show, Sir Ian recited a very ‘punny’ poem by Gerard Hopkins, saying it was one of his favourites, filled with word-play and telling such an interesting tale about the inevitability of ageing. He explained some of Hopkin’s background, and then transformed and rolled the words of this poem in quick succession to create a wondrous sensation of sound.

The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo


How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there ’s none, there ’s none, O no there ’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there ’s none; no no no there ’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.


There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

Gerard Manley Hopkins
The lights dimmed once more, and there came a fabulous end to a fabulous first half of a magnificent show!

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