NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Sir Ian McKellen's run of 80 shows ends in Orkney

Sir Ian McKellen
Image caption Sir Ian McKellan says he organised the tour of 80 performances of his one-man show to try and escape celebrations of his 80th birthday

You might think of Sir Ian McKellen as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our times ... or a character from Coronation Street ... or Gandalf ... or Magneto from the X Men movies ... or Widow Twankey from "Aladdin" ... or Freddy from "Vicious". The list goes on. And on.

He's one man who, in his time, has played many parts.

He was 80 this year, and to get out of having to celebrate that milestone he's spent the last nine months touring more than 80 venues across the British Isles.

His run of a new solo show - Ian McKellen on Stage, which celebrated Tolkien, Shakespeare, Gerald Manley Hopkins and many more - came to an end this week in Orkney.

He told BBC Radio Orkney his experience of touring from Jersey to Ballymena, and from King's Lynn to Kirkwall had proved that "audiences, and people who like the theatre, are the same wherever you go".

Image copyright Louise Tait
Image caption Fifteen-year-old Liam Tait from Kirkwall got a selfie with Sir Ian during a performance at the Orkney Theatre
Image caption Liam Tait was still shaking and almost speechless 24 hours after being called up onto the stage

"They're amused by the same things, and they seem to be interested in the same things," he says.

"And at a time when the country seems to be falling apart apart, it's reassuring that at least there are - maybe a minority - but there are people who are like-minded, and like live entertainment."

Some of those who've loved the experience of Sir Ian's show are the youngsters called up on stage during each performance.

Fifteen-year-old Liam Tait from Kirkwall has already played the part of Bert - the narrator - in a school production of "Mary Poppins Junior." He wants to be an actor. And the chance to meet a star like Ian McKellen has just confirmed that ambition.

"Of all the people in the audience with their hands up, to be picked. I couldn't believe it," he says. "To be on a stage with a man like him was just amazing."

Image copyright Victoria Chanter
Image caption Sir Ian fences with Gerry Hodgson and Liam Budge using Glamdring - the actual sword used in the Lord of the Ring films

Sir Ian vividly remembers the time he was first bitten by the acting bug. At a performance of "Peter Pan" he went to as a child.

"I can remember quite clearly holding one of my parents' hands as they were dragging us out to get the train, and looking back. I can see it now," he says.

"The backcloth was pierced with bright stars."

That prompted the question in his young mind, "how do you make starlight?"

"I still don't know how it works", he laughs. But it was enough to make him decide there and then he wanted to be back in the theatre.

Image copyright Edinburgh International festival
Image caption Five Sir Ian McKellan bursaries were awarded this week, to support students of the performing arts using money raised by performances at the Edinburgh International Festival

Sir Ian, a veteran equal rights activist and LGBT+ campaigner, led Perth's first Pride event earlier this month and gave a speech before the main festival kicked off.

Just this week five Sir Ian McKellen bursaries have been awarded to students of the performing arts - paid for with money raised by performances of the one-man show at the Edinburgh International Festival.

"That wasn't my idea", he says, "because the money in each place we've been to is spent in whatever way the venue wants it to be spent.

"And the Festival, of course, works all the year round - particularly in Leith Academy, where these bursaries will be based.

"So, yes, it's very pleasing to me that in hard times people will be able to pursue their ambitions."

Image copyright Ian Potter
Image caption Sir Ian led Perth's first Pride Parade earlier this month
Image copyright FTU

But, of all the things he's done during his career, what gives him the most pleasure?

"All of them, really. There've only been a couple of jobs that I didn't enjoy." Disappointingly, he doesn't go on to say which they were. Instead, he is positive and upbeat.

"I enjoyed my time in New Zealand, making the Tolkien movies enormously, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. And, usually, what I'm after is getting better at the job.

"So the challenge of being in 'Coronation Street', where the actors are absolutely wonderful and have been at it for years. To arrive in their company is, perhaps, a dangerous thing to do. But very rewarding.

"So, everything has been a joy."

And so, he adds, has been the tour - which has just come to an end. "Time to go back to acting. And stop showing off."

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