Tauranga is in for a special treat on Sunday, when acting royalty comes to town. As we were keen to find out what the buzz is all about, we travelled to Stratford in Taranaki on Saturday for the opening night of Sir Ian McKellen on Stage with Shakespeare, Tolkien and You.
McKellen, who is best known for his role as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, also played Magneto in the X-Men films and Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code. Add to that some time on Coronation Street plus many years of Shakespearean and modern theatre and something amazing can surely be expected to take place at Baycourt this Sunday afternoon.
Sir Ian is performing 14 solo shows in 11 towns around New Zealand in an effort to raise the funds needed to restore the earthquake-damaged Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch.
No show will be the same, as the audience is very much involved in all that's happening on stage.
As soon as the lights came on, it became clear that this was going to be an exceptional show. It can't be easy for just one person, alone on stage, to keep an audience entertained for a few hours but McKellen did just that, and he did it brilliantly.
The show contained a lot of fantastic Tolkien and Shakespearean monologue brought with much passion and flair, but what gave it that extra bit of magic was the involvement of the audience.
An important part of the first half of this show was that McKellen invited the audience to ask him questions, and the people of Stratford quizzed him eagerly.
McKellen was clearly enjoying himself on this opening night. In between answering questions, he told tales of his life and work, and retraced his journey from the industrial north of England to the West End of London, to Broadway, Hollywood and to Middle Earth.
After the interval, the show focused on Shakespeare, which was fitting in a place like Stratford where nearly all streets are named after Shakespearean characters.
As he is committed to raising as much money as possible to save the theatre, the buckets came at the end. Sir Ian chatted with people and signed autographs, while donations were gratefully received. It was truly special to get up close with such a remarkable actor, and I can't wait until Sunday to see and do it all again.
Ian McKellen on Stage
Sunday, May 13, 2pm