On Saturday night Keryn and I along with Catherine and Paul attended a show at the Opera House in Wellington. Sir Ian McKellen was performing a one-man show with proceeds in aid of the restoration of the quake-damaged Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch. We had dinner nearby and arrived early enough to get to our seats near the front.
It wasn’t too long to wait before the lights went down and after a short burst of dramatic music from the Lord of the Rings movies we heard a voice from the darkness of the stage. Sir Ian was reciting a passage from the Fellowship of the Ring, specifically the encounter between Gandalf and the Balrog at the bridge Of Khazad Dum. And so the night began. Near the start Ian asked if anyone wanted to come on stage and have a play with the prop sword Glamdring that he had with him. He was looking for someone young, 10 or so, but when there were no appropriate volunteers he let someone somewhat older come up instead. The volunteer was invited to hold the sword and swish it around, Ian even suggested that she could attack him if she wanted though thankfully she declined. She also got to try on Ian’s copy of the One Ring that he was given while visiting Nelson recently, proof it was a copy given when she didn’t disappear once putting it on.
The first half of the show was then largely taken up with Ian answering questions posed by the audience, from reminiscing about meeting and acting with Ava Gardner while working on the movie Priest of Love to working with Ricky Gervais on his show Extras. We relived Ian’s encounter with Nelson Mandala, learned about Ian publicly coming out in response to a proposed British law change and many more things besides. The tales were funny, heart-warming and interesting and this part of the show ended in what seemed far to short a period of time.
After the interval, during which there were a few people wandering through the crowd hunting out signatures from actors and crew from the Hobbit movie still being filmed in Miramar, Ian was back on stage and the subject changed to Shakespeare. Marching about on stage Ian had an open clipboard in hand containing a complete list of Shakespeare’s plays and he invited the audience to try and name them all. As the names were shouted out Ian crossed them off, every now and again stopping to recite a favourite quote from a recently named play, reminiscing on his experiences playing parts, or letting us know his favourite characters.
As an encore Ian came on stage and explained about his efforts to help restore the Isaac Theatre Royal. With the help of ASB, Air New Zealand and the many theatres he visited on this tour all the money from ticket sales is going to the Theatre restoration project. As an extra effort Ian had a bucket to collect money and for a small sum he would have a photo taken with anyone, sign whatever people wanted or just have a short chat if that was requested. Ian then invited on stage the members of the Hobbit cast in attendance and they were all given buckets as well so they could also collect money.
As a final piece of theatre Ian then invited on-stage anyone who wanted to take part in a short bit of acting. I’m not normally someone who does this sort of thing but this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance so I headed up along with several dozen others. We mingled with the Hobbit cast, Martin Freeman expressing his general surprise at what was happening “We had no idea about this” (though with a grin on his face) and everyone then crowded in around Ian as he explained what would happen next. We were to be French soldiers on the battlefield and at the signalled time we were all to fall to the ground while Ian recited the names of the fallen. So we took our places and when indicated we all collapsed, playing dead for a few minutes while Ian lamented the fall of his colleagues such as “Moet, Chandon and Dom Perignon”. We were soon back on our feet and taking a bow to applause from the audience and then the show came to a close.
The Hobbit cast members were then arrayed around the theatre and lines quickly formed for people to give some money and collect some signatures and photos. Keryn and I (well, really I was dragging Keryn around) started by heading to Peter Jackson who happily signed our copy of the Hobbit. We then joined a line and met Martin Freeman (Bilbo), getting a signature from Stephen Hunter (Bombur, though most Kiwis will probably recognise him more for the Toyota flying fox television ad), then crossed the theatre to meet Billy Connolly (Dain Ironfoot, and he said he would be back in NZ next year for some shows) and then out into the foyer where we first bumped into Jed Brophy (Nori) before joining a line to finally meet Sir Ian (Gandalf). I grabbed a few photos along the way, such as Peter Jackson holding court on the stairs from the foyer to a line of eager fans. Everyone we met was very friendly and relaxed. There was a woman ahead of us in a few of the queues who was asking the actors for some odd requests such as getting Martin to hold up a sign she had something written on (a message for a friend) and then she very much confused Billy Connolly while getting him to recite a short message while she took a video (again for the same friend I’m guessing). While maybe a bit bemused at the turn of events the actors took it all in their stride and no doubt the sum of money taken for the Isaac Theatre Royal swelled accordingly.
So, a wonderful night of theatre that ended with lovely encounters with the cast of The Hobbit. I couldn’t really ask for more.