Ian McKellen to celebrate 80th birthday with Ballymena performance

The actor's solo show will encompass roles like Gandalf and King Lear to raise money for regional theatre.

Sir Ian McKellen has spoken about his connection to Ballymena as he prepares to embark on an 80-date tour of Northern Ireland and Britain.

The actor will celebrate turning 80 in May next year with a tour of theatres in major cities like Belfast, Liverpool and Manchester as well as lesser known spaces in Ballymena, Orkney and Lyme Regis.

Profits and his wage from his show, Ian McKellen On Stage, will go to the theatre, with the actor suggesting each space spend the money on whatever it needs, “whether it’s painting the dressing rooms or putting in new seats or supporting youth groups”.

The celebrated actor has links to Ballymena.

"My great great grandfather, James McKellen, was a minister in Ballymena before leaving in 1840, since then our family have been settled in England but I very much wanted to discover my roots during my UK tour celebrating my 80th birthday. It’s high time I made my debut here raising funds to support the work at The Braid. See you there, I hope!"

His Northern Ireland performances: 

Belfast's Lyric Theatre on July 25-26 

Waterside Theatre in Derry on July 27 

Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena on July 29

Newtownabbey's Theatre at the Mill on July 31 and August 1.

A Very English Scandal
Sir Ian McKellen will tour the UK with a solo show entitled Ian McKellen On Stage (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Speaking to the Press Association, the 79-year-old star stressed the importance of local theatre companies, saying “the more theatre there is up and down the country, on tour or locally, the happier people will be”.

Sir Ian, who was born in Bolton, Greater Manchester, said watching regional theatre had given him his first taste of the stage.

He added that he saw no reason why some parts of the country should remain under-served while larger cities and London receive the best productions.

He said: “If I had had to have been dependent, when I was a boy, simply on a lot of wonderful theatre in London I would never have seen any theatre at all.

“I’ve never understood why if you live in Lancaster you shouldn’t have access to the best theatre going.

Sir Ian McKellen at London's Park Theatre
The actor will donate his wage from each performance to that regional theatre (Mark Douet/PA)

“I think it’s a pity if theatre becomes only something you do on high days and holidays, and spend a fortune seeing the long-running musical.

“If that’s all the theatre-going you do then you are missing out. The more theatre there is up and down the country, on tour or locally, the happier people will be.

“The best way an actor can support regional theatre is by going to work in it.”

Sir Ian, who was knighted in 1991, is best known for playing Shakespearean roles and as Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings film series.

He will begin his tour on January 25 next year at The Space on the Isle of Dogs. The London stretch of the tour will take in the National Theatre and the LGBT-forward Above The Stag Theatre.

He will also perform at venues with which he has personal connections, including the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, where he first took to the stage in a production of A Man For All Seasons.

Sir John Gielgud plaque
Sir Ian McKellen hailed regional theatre for offering him his first experience of the stage (Lauren Hurley/PA)

His act will encompass his wide-ranging career and include anecdotes, acting and audience participation.

He said: “They will expect to see Gandalf, they will. They probably will expect Shakespeare, and there will be a lot of that. There will be other stuff which will perhaps be more surprising.

“There will be a chance for me to tell a story or two and it will be different perhaps in each place I go to because my memories of the Edinburgh Festival will not be appropriate when playing in Aberystwyth.”

Cheap tickets will be available at each show and Sir Ian said he hoped young people would be in the audience at every stop.

Asked what advice he would give to those young actors, he replied: “I advise them to do what I do and go watch other people acting, whether it is stage or on telly or on film, or even on the Tube, or walking  down the street.

“Everyone is always acting. All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.

“You can learn an awful lot by observing and trying to work out why someone is good on stage and why someone else is not. You can do it for free.”

Ian McKellen On Stage will tour from January 25 to September 15 next year.

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