Shakespeare, Tolkien and You at the Q Part 2

And I’m back once again, to rave effusive with praise over Sir Ian McKellen’s performance, his voice, and his extra-ordinary skills and acting talents!

So, we were at the interval. This was 20-30 minutes long, and Sir Ian was again very generous with his time, coming down to chat and shake hands and get donations from people, and then later sneaking outside for a smoke (I saw him walk out the back doors). After the interval, the theatre again grew dark, and all were silent. The stage lights remained on, however, and Sir Ian strode once more onto the stage, reciting Shakespeare’s famous 7 Ages of Man from “As You Like It”. He followed this strong entrance with a clip board, and asked everyone to name the 37 plays of Shakespeare. Every few plays, he would come to one which he had acted in, and act out an excerpt. This was a very clever way of interspersing some of Shakespeare’s more famous scenes with lesser-known ones, and also involve the audience.

He did the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, playing both protagonists, also adding that he had first played Romeo at the age of 37…stating that this was quite old, as Romeo himself is considered a youth of around 17. Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech was done  in a whisper, Sir Ian explaining that he had once had to do it because there were not enough actors to play the soldiers, so he had made do with the audience, and that as he objected to shouting everything, he had whispered it. It was very moving – he mingled with the audience, running up and down the aisles (he was right below me) and by the end of it I felt like leaping up and joining him myself. What was really amazing was that while you could clearly tell that he was whispering, Sir Ian could be heard from the very back of the hall! He also did a homoerotic piece from Coriolanus as Coriolanus, after some rather droll discussion on the right pronunciation of the name itself.

Sir Ian also stated that he had never played Benedict from “Much Ado About Nothing”, saying that he has always considered it an easy role; one which has never been played badly. He also added that he loved “The Merry Wives Of Windsor”, but would never like to play Falstaff. When someone said “Macbeth”, Sir Ian told us of the real reason the play is said to be bad luck – it is Shakespeare’s most popular play, and always sells out, so having it on the repertoire means that the directors need money to pay the actors – and the prospect of not being paid is BAD. He did a piece from Hamlet, who – not the famous “to be or not to be” speech, but when he is bemoaning his cowardliness, and finally deciding to put on the play for his uncle to see what his reaction is, as well as a Magneto soliloquy. Sir Ian replied to “which Shakespearean character would you like to act most” with Antonio from “The Merchant Of Venice”, saying that he would like to play any merchant, but that Antonio is the merchant. He also said that as Antonio was the only openly gay character in Shakespeare’s plays, that was an added bonus. Sir Ian acted out Antonio’s greeting to his friend, and ended the scene by mischievously saying “And if they’re not going backstage to have a bit of a nooky…” suggestively, much to the audience’s amusement He finished with some information about Shakespeare’s 38th play, which was co-written with Anthony Monday and some others, called “Sir Thomas More”, and a scene from the play.

Sir Ian then looked at the time, and after checking his watch said that there was still time to sing the song he had promised in the programme. He said that he would feel as if he had short-changed everyone if he didn’t sing it, but that he was bad at singing, and was only doing it because it was his favourite song. Actually, he was being modest – he could certainly sing better than me!

This is the song, it was enchantingly sweet:

I’m Leaning On A Lamp-Post

‘m leaning on a lamp, maybe you think, I look a tramp,
Or you may think I’m hanging ’round to steal a motor-car.
But no I’m not a crook, And if you think, that’s what I look,
I’ll tell you why I’m here, And what my motives are.

I’m leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street,
In case a certain little lady comes by.
Oh me, oh my, I hope the little lady comes by.
I don’t know if she’ll get away, She doesn’t always get away,
But anyhow I know that she’ll try.
Oh me, oh my, I hope the little lady comes by,
There’s no other girl I would wait for, But this one I’d break any date for,
I won’t have to ask what she’s late for, She wouldn’t have to leave me flat,
She’s not a girl like that.
Oh, she’s absolutely wonderful, and marvellous and beautiful.
And anyone can understand why,
I’m leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street
In case a certain little lady passes by. 

I’m leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street,
In case a certain little lady comes by.
Oh me, oh my, I hope the little lady goes do do do dah dah dee dee dee…..
I don’t know if she’ll get away, She doesn’t always get away,
But anyhow I know that she’ll try.
Oh me, oh my, I hope the little lady comes by,
There’s no other girl I would wait for, But this one I’d break any date for,
I won’t have to ask what she’s late for, She wouldn’t have to leave me flat,
She’s not a girl like that.
Oh, she’s absolutely wonderful, and marvellous and beautiful.
And anyone can understand why,
I’m leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street
In case a certain little lady passes by.

– By George Formby

Then, he called everyone who cared on stage for the unique opportunity to act with him. I went, of course, and he shook everyone by the hand (yes, I got to touch him!) and then told us he wanted us to act as dead French soldiers from “Richard III” and fall down dead at his cue. It was very fun, and what he told the audience, about an actor who had to make up French names because the director gave him an empty piece of paper by mistake, was also funny. This ended the show. There was solid applause for at least 5 minutes, and when it showed no signs of dying down at all, Sir Ian had to raise his hands in embarrassment to get us to stop clapping. Even then, it took a while.

The very finish was when he took out his collection bucket onto the stage and told everyone about the Christchurch red zone, which he had visited and described as “like walking onto the set of some terrible disaster movie where the film crew and actors were yet to arrive.” However, he said that “like a good deed in a naughty world”, the Isaac Theatre Royal was still standing. Sir Ian had performed Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot” in this theatre in 2010, and decided to fundraise for its fixing.  He said if enough money was raised, work could start within the year.

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