Theatregoers were intially disappointed to discover that the legendary actor would be unable to perform that night - but they got something much more special instead
What’s the first thing you think of when you sustain an injury? Well, it’s probably ‘ouch this hurts’, but after that, it’s, ‘hmmm, not so bad, I can get a day off work from this’.
But that’s just you and me, humble mortal beings that we are. When you are Sir Ian McKellen, you think differently. The show must go on, and the people must not be left disappointed.
The 79-year-old actor is currently in a 100-show run of King Lear at the Duke of York’s Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane in London’s West End, with the show running since 11 July.
King Lear again: 100 performances at Duke of York’s in London where I made my West End debut 1964. It’s a small theatre but we shall make it even more intimate by removing half the stalls seats. First performance is 11th July. https://t.co/SRoH1hWxjJ pic.twitter.com/pYSJ6pPv7X— Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen) February 8, 2018
However, McKellen suffered an injury on the way to Saturday’s shows whilst travelling on the tube after he ‘galloped up 45 steps to catch the train above’ before he ‘skipped along the carriage’ and his left leg gave way. With a strained calf muscle diagnosed, he realised that he would not be able to perform the matinee show - but this did not deter him from giving the public a performance of a different nature.
Instead, he treated the crowd to a one-man show, sitting down on a chair and taking questions from the audience, as well as delighting them with a couple of Gandalf lines, as well as acting several Shakespeare scenes from memory.
I hadn’t long been up before I set off for yesterday’s matinee of King Lear. At the underground station I galloped up 45 steps to catch the train above. Once on it, I skipped along the carriage and my left leg gave way. A strained calf muscle was diagnosed ... pic.twitter.com/5fH3ASa65o— Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen) August 5, 2018
Needless to say, the lucky audience were delighted:
Standing ovation for Sir Ian McKellen, who welcomed his cast mates to the stage after being unable to perform. While I’m obviously disappointed to not see King Lear, it was a privilege to hear McKellen share his thoughts on theatre this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/r8TCWJJJwX— Katie Simpson (@CBCKatie) August 4, 2018
During the Q&A, he revealed that he doesn’t approve of microphones in the theatre as he believes they get in the way of connecting with an audience, as well as saying that he only became an actor because it was the only thing he was good off, while joking that he likes to “show off”.
Kirsty Bushell, who plays Regan in the production, wrote: “Determined to give the audience something, he spoke for over an hour about his life, career and love of acting, in particular of Shakespeare to a full house.
“It was utterly spontaneous, completely natural, and deeply touching. The theatre was full of love and compassion. Check out the actors and stage managers in the wings. We hunched there, delighted.”
My son and I were ‘lucky’ enough to be in the audience for the matinee. The disappointment at missing the play was short lived, as listening to you sharing stories, answering questions, ‘doing’ Gandalf and generally being wonderful, was a great consolation prize 😊— Pat Seymour (@PatSeymour1) August 5, 2018
I was blown away to hear excerpts from Henry IV, Hamlet and Gandalf all in one go! I say it felt like such an intimate venue. What a raconteur you are, I’m so happy I get to come back and see you in October, thank you for such an unexpected delight, I do hope you recover soon x— Sue Ghani (@Tiggylicious) August 5, 2018
Yesterday was a very special experience. You shared some wonderful memories with us and great impersonations. I won't forget your Gielgud & Richardson. Please write a book on performing #Shakespeare. Your insights are fascinating. So glad I'll get to see #kinglear too soon— Jenny_Edwards (@Jenny_Edwards) August 5, 2018
I was in the audience for Saturdays matinee and whilst no Lear was disappointing, what we got was truly magical. Thank you sir for being a brilliant raconteur and showman. Hope we can rearrange to see the show!— Andy Williams (@andywilliams250) August 6, 2018
Ever the professional, McKellen managed to perform in the evening show later that day, but we suspect that those who were there that afternoon got the better deal.