Photo by Teresa Harrison
On Friday night I had the great pleasure of seeing Ian McKellen’s show at the Park Theatre, followed by tapas with the fabulous man himself. It was a wonderful night from start to finish.
The show was engaging, personal and packed with intelligence, wit and warmth. Including Tolkien, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, a spot of Widow Twanky and many personal anecdotes, McKellen captured the audiences’ imaginations with the skill and humour of a master storyteller. He had us in the palms of his hands, and we all seemed happy to stay there as long as he’d let us.
What has really stayed with me is the passion with which he spoke about the Park Theatre, and the need to support independent, local theatres. Theatres that weren’t lucky enough to be awarded Arts Council Grants. Theatres that add so much to their communities (I’ve written about theatres and their contributions as community spaces in the past here and here). The lack of arts council funding obliges them to rely on us to support them. Not just through standard tickets sales (which normally, even with sold out shows,will be barely enough to keep the doors open if tickets prices are to remain reasonable, and the cast, crew and theatre staff paid fair wages), but also through fundraisers and friend/member schemes. I’m lucky enough to be able to support the Park Theatre (despite recently discovering that savings are a good thing, which was a shattering blow to my “que sera sera” world view). To be fair, given how much booze I can get through at a fundraiser, it’s the least I can do, but we’ll not dwell on how shabby I was feeling when I woke up Saturday morning.
Ian McKellen wasn’t there trying to guilt us into donating more money to the theatre. He’d given his time to the theatre to create a show that people would pay a premium for, with that lovely money going to the Park. He’d also offered to have selfies taken with people, meet people in his dressing room, go for dinner with fans, all to raise funds. “Money can’t buy opportunities”were suddenly buyable. He was willing to put in so much time to help the Park Theatre. I think I will always admire him for that generosity. That, and the fact he was just so kind to everyone.
If you’ve never been to the Park Theatre you should definitely check it out, they’ve got some fabulous shows scheduled for the rest of the year. They have a lovely bar and communal space. The front of house staff are welcoming and I can definitely attest to the quality of the wine. Check out a show there, even if it is only out of curiosity to see the place that can inspire someone like Ian McKellen to be so very generous.
My fundraising night, the Friday, I’d opted for dinner at the wonderful La Fabrica (I knew from past experience that they do delicious tapas and they did not disappoint).
Photo of Ian McKellen and the La Fabrica team, taken by me
The wine was free flowing (hence the sore head on Saturday) and I got to chat to some lovely people. I’ve been lucky over the years to make some lasting friendships through my love of theatre. Friday I left the restaurant with new friends from Phoenix, Virginia and exotic Finchley. It was a great night. Ian McKellen kindly posed for a neverending parade of photos (my personal idea of hell – the reason there is no pic of me on here with him is I look like I’ve been possessed by a gargoyle in it, and they’re only cute in Disney animations). He tried to talk to us all, although that was always going to be a challenge, so we only chatted with him very briefly before he had to leave. As a result there are a couple of things I didn’t get to say. Banal things really, but I feel a stubborn need to share them, so here I go. My key conversations points would have been:
(1) Seeing his Richard III as a teenager helped plant the seed of my now virulent theatre addiction. I have the poster from that production on my living room wall.
(2) I had tickets booked to see him play the Widow Twanky on the night of my 30th birthday, but had to give them away as I had to go to a work conference in Paris that week. So instead of seeing his Twanky, I spent my birthday evening in a restaurant with film marketers from Europe and the US. They organised a special dessert and sang me happy birthday, it was awkward, sweet and special. The unplanned things often are. I was, therefore, particularly delighted to finally get a taste of his Widow Twanky.
There, that was it. Nothing earth-shatteringly original, but since he’d shared stories from his own life, I suppose I wanted to balance things out with snippets of my own.
And now, to make things easier for you, in this convenience obsessed world of ours, here is a link to the Park Theatre website, where you can have a nice nosy about and see if there is a show that catches your fancy. Don’t say I never do anything for you.