Sir Ian returns – 40 years on

SIR Ian McKellen performed at Poole’s Lighthouse arts centre 40 years ago – “It’s wonderful to be back,” he told the capacity audience at his Ian McKellen On Stage 80th birthday show, which raised £28,000 for hundreds of young people to be able to take part in the arts centre’s Bright Sparks initiative.

Sir Ian visited the Lighthouse in July 1978 just a few weeks after it opened as Poole Arts Centre; he was a member of the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s small-scale tour of Twelfth Night, directed by Jon Amiel, and Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Trevor Nunn. In Twelfth Night he had to make an entrance through the theatre, but even though he was in full costume an over-zealous usherette refused him entry – because he didn’t have a ticket!

“When I played here 40 years ago it was only a few weeks old,” he told guests after the show. “I played Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night with my great friend Edward Petherbridge as Orsino. As we left the stage I called out above the din: ‘We’ll be back’ and he looked at me and said: ‘Liar!’ Well, it may have taken 40 years, but I shall have to call Edward to tell him I made it back to Poole!”

The two-time Oscar nominee, who was Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and also starred in the X-Men franchise, is touring 80 regional theatres with which he has a personal connection. The aim is for his one-man show to have earned more than £2 million by the end of the tour next month.

The money raised by Ian McKellen On Stage at Poole will go towards Bright Sparks, the  Lighthouse’s £80,000 creative discovery programme to help talented young people to develop their interest in all aspects of the arts, something that is particularly close to Sir Ian’s heart – so much so that he took a collection bucket out into the foyer to gather donations made by the departing audience.

At the post-show reception he spotted Finley Hann, the 13-year-old winner of the Inter-School Poetry Slam at Lighthouse, and invited him on stage for a personal tour of his props, including Gandalf’s sword Glamdring.

Lighthouse chief executive Elspeth McBain said: “It has been a real pleasure to welcome Sir Ian back to Lighthouse and I want to thank you not just for what you’ve done for our theatre, but for everything you’ve done for the theatre in general. You could have given money, but to give your time and your soul as we saw on stage tonight is truly special.

“The money raised means we can help young people find their way into the theatre by learning how it all works. Developing young talent is not just about giving opportunities to artists, but also to the huge range of people that work hard behind the scenes. Bright Sparks will give opportunities to countless young people and will ensure that the arts in Dorset continue to flourish.”

Sir Ian is to play 80 more Ian McKellen On Stage shows in London in aid of theatre charities in the hopes of earning more than £3 million by the end of the run.

To find out how you can help Bright Sparks email

Pictured: Sir Ian McKellen with Finley Hann, the 13-year-old winner of the Inter School Poetry Slam.