Sunday, May 09, 2010

A One-man Show with Ian McKellen

Mrs. Buce conjured up a nice surprise out of the Netflix queue--a one-man Shakespeare evening with Ian McKellen. McKellen is perhaps best known to crossover audiences as Gandalf the Grey but he has deep roots in classical theatre, particularly Shakespeare.

It's an agreeable way to spend an evening. It's not as overpowering as the imperishable John Gielgud's dazzler, but then few things are. It's affable, good-natured and unpretentious--it apparently dates from the late 70s, long before his emergence as a world-class wizard. Nonetheless, McKellen makes clear that he is a master at the far-trickier-than-it-looks rendition of Shakespearean verse.

McKellen tackled a number of more or less familiar characters in some depth. No surprise, perhaps, that he was a knockout with Richard III--a role which some years later he turned into a highly satisfying movie. More surprising, perhaps, that the skinny and delicate McKellen could turn himself into that paradigm of fat men, Falstaff. And here's one that has to be a stretch: I'd say that McKellen is about the most convincing Juliet I've ever seen. I've never seen a Juliet whom I thought was really up to it; erhaps one reason is that Shakespeare's Juliet is so fluent beyond her years. The play presents her 14 and though I doubt many 14-year-olds actually tackle the role, still I suspect a lot of actresses who take it on are living off intellectual capital they haven't earned. McKellen, with his superbly convincing delivery, was able to put across lines that you know are there but which I've never seen delivered so well.

Perhaps ironically, I didn't think he was as convincing as an actor with either Hamlet or Macbeth, but here's something I learned by watching him: even though he may not have been convincing as a character, still he was you wanted to stick with him as a speaker. He was able to tease so much out of the verse that you wanted to stick with him even if he might not have inhabited the role.

This is the second time in the past few months I've had a look at the young McKellen: he was also part of the team that put together those superb master classes with John Barton. I wouldn't say McKellen alone was quite as astounding as McKellen in the company of Barton et al., but it was still a lot better than a poke in the eye with a pointed stick. Highly recommended

No comments: