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Intimate encounter with theatre legend McKellen

Ian McKellen on Stage, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.

He makes a lovely Widow Twankey, does Ian McKellen, head pinned by a scarf, face gurning, those Lancashire vowels burring. And he can certainly recite a line or two as well; in fact the whole of Shakespeare seems to come tumbling from him in a torrent that showcases his 80-year-old memory as he struts and frets through his stellar career as an actor.

Pantomime, of course, is a tiny cog in a wheel that includes most of the great parts in the English theatre tradition, as well as his signature film role - Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings. And it's with the great flowing wizard himself that he begins this oddly intimate encounter with a theatre full of fans, gently taking a rise out of his fellow Rings star Christopher Lee, while quietly admitting to us that he's never actually read Tolkein's huge work.

A breathless span of anecdote follows - childhood memories of theatre-going in his native Bolton, the Queen's dress sense on the day he received his knighthood at Buckingham Palace, poetry from his hero Gerard Manley Hopkins, a moving account of the journey he made in coming out publicly as a gay man at the age of 48.

It goes without saying that McKellen is a great performer. He's almost as much of a national treasure as his friend Judy Dench. And the second half of the evening demonstrates his remarkable grasp of Shakespeare, all 37 plays, as he reminisces about productions he's been in and delivers one or two of the great speeches in the way they were meant to be delivered.

For McKellen the professional actor it all began at the Belgrade back in 1961. The debut year he spent in Coventry saw him play roles in 15 productions, beginning with A Man For All Seasons.

Not a bad summary of that stellar career really.

Picture by Oliver Rosser, Feast Creative.

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