25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

16 December 2003


From: Beverley

Q: My husband, son and I were at the Lyric to see the most perfect "Dance of Death" I could imagine. Thank you also for taking the time to sign our programmes after the play. Our son Joe was so thrilled finally to have met "Gandalf", and to have seen you in another part, and as "yourself"! Thank you.

A: It is always fun to meet folks at the stage door. All my best to Joe.

Stage Door at the Lyric, March 2003


Q: I'd like to congratulate you on Dance Of Death which I saw with two Swedish friends. I'm Danish from Copenhagen. I very much like the scene where you are alone and...erm...rearranging the room and the background music/soundscape works well, sounding like fishing boats going past and making it all very atmospheric. Second, I recently finished reading Andy Warhol's diaries, and in one of his last entries (a few weeks before he died) he mentioned meeting you and commenting that he thought you were 'cute and sexy'.

A: The "catharsis" scene in which Edgar throws out his old life (the playing cards, the whisky , cigars etc) and then lights up the room with candles is full of symbolism. Surprisingly it has often been cut in modern Swedish productions.

I had lunch with Andy Warhol having bought one of his Mick Jagger portraits for Sean Mathias who was also at lunch. AW ate little and showed us his necklace of crystals in which he placed much faith.


From: vanessa_mennella@hotmail.com Vanessa

Q: I thoroughly enjoyed your performance as Edgar in 'Dance of Death', and thought you and Frances de la Tour were wonderful. It was a nice touch for Edgar and Alice to be going about their business on stage before the start of the performance. It suggested to me that the characters could exist plausibly as real people beyond the boundaries of the play. I haven't seen that many plays but are there any other instances where characters appear on stage before the performance?

A: I remember doing it only once before in "Amadeus" on Broadway when I sat in my wheelchair back to the audience until the lights went down when I turned round to start the play. In Dance of Death, we decided that the action should be happening before the audience arrived the curtain being up. I never like it when the audience has had a chance to explore the set before the actors arrive on it.


Q: Just to say I saw Dance of Death and found it very powerful. Your performance was mesmerising. I would imagine its an exhausting production for you but wonderful for the audience. I shall go again. Thank you.

A: I know the impression of the evening is that it is an exhausting one for the three main actors. But as Edgar, I get to sit down quite a lot during the show even lie down for a bit so I find it certainly less of an effort than, say, a leading part in Shakespeare. I'm so pleased you approved.


From: Jake Eyers

Q: My boyfriend and I went to see "Dance of Death" and were both completely blown away, so thank you very much for that. How does acting in the West End differ from acting on Broadway? and having stated that you have attempted to give up smoking, how does the cigar feel with each performance of Dance of Death?

A: Broadway audiences are a little more volatile than in London. They laugh a little louder and tend to leap to their feet at the curtain call. Backstage New York is more excited too there is a positive theatre community in central Manhattan where performers are aware of the ups-and-downs of other shows. In the West End there is less of that sort of inter-communication. However, Dawn French, next door at the Apollo Theatre in her one-woman play, dropped by to visit us for a bit of company.

I avoid inhaling the cigar but I enjoy the paraphernalia of lighting it and dealing with the ash. And the smoke makes sinuous shapes in the air.


From: Rebecca

Q: What is the difference between the previews and "the real thing"? Why are there previews of the show before the opening night?

A: Until the 1960s, plays opening in the West End of London met the national press at the first public performance. This would have been preceded by a pre-London tour of some weeks during which a manager could begin to recoup production costs as a production settled down in front of regional audiences and provincial critics. The alternative of not touring is the system of previews where audiences (paying slightly lower prices) can see a show before the main media whose arrival en masse signifies the official "first night". So Dance of Death started previewing on 20 February 2003 and opened on 4 March.


From: Josh Darcy

Q: I thought both you and Frances de la Tour were fantastic in "Dance of Death". I read the play a long time ago, and thought it gloomy and depressing. Your production however had me in stitches! Strindberg being funny was a real education to me.

A: Strindberg's reputation as doom-laden mysogynist is not fair. The director of the Swedish National Theatre said as much when he saw our production : "At last a non-Swedish production that realises Strindberg had a sense of humour!" All honour to Richard Greenberg, whose translation picks up on the staccato lines of the original, akin to the wise-cracking repartee of old partners (think of Hepburn/Tracey movies where love underscores the spats and arguments).

Frances de la Tour is an accomplished comedian and can get a laugh by raising an eyebrow. As she is equally capable of evoking passion and tears, she is an ideal Strindbergian.


From: sophie

Q: i went to see "dance of death" this april, and actually later on had the oppertunity to talk to you (whilst you were signing my copy of the lord of the rings) my father, mother and i had seats in the 3rd row, so we were able to enjoy the play perfectly. being merely 15 i'm not sure i understood most of the psychological points of the play, but that didn't keep me from loving it. my favourite person of the strange trio must have been edgar. i realized this in the scene with the cat. the way edgar - you - gently picked up the cat and wrapped it in your vest, was for me the realization "so the nasty old man is in fact human". thinking back now, i wonder if it was then that i realized how human he actually was. it might have been earlier. but it just was that scene that must have touched me the most. i had to say that.

i arrived at home (vienna) 2 weeks later, with your autograph for my best friend and shortly later i went to see X-MEN2. somehow, i find the character magneto/eric the most easy to relate to in x-men. his choices and concepts are more believeable than those of, for example, wolverine. that's what i like about x-men, that the bad guy is so agreeable somehow. my point about magneto is that he reminded me so much of edgar. this might be some simple illusion, but i wanted to ask you about it. do you feel a connection between the two? or is it just my teenage mind?

A: So glad you came to see Dance of Death. When I was your age I was an avid theatre-goer — still am 50 years on! The scene in which Edgar finds the cat and lovingly carries it offstage has no words to clarify the playwright's intention: but I think you are right. When Edgar has had his "near-death experience" he recovers some of his humanity, in his determination to try and live on. By the end of the play (when his rival Kurt has fled) he is much more loving to his wife than he has previously been. The little episode with the cat alerts the audience to his emotional change.

Well perhaps it was me rather than Edgar who you recognised in Magneto but I agree that he is a humane villain. Indeed the first scene of X-Men shows where his passionate politics take root.


From: gareth.carr@mayflower.org.uk Gareth Carr

Q: I was lucky enough to see Dance of Death just before you closed in London. A wonderful, and disturbing performance. Frances De La Tour strikes me as being a very different actress to Helen Mirren. Did you find it to be a very different experience playing the same part in the same play but with a different leading lady ?

What are your future theatre plans ? Are you ready for Lear yet ? And do you have any plans to come 'down south' to a venue such as Chichester or perhaps London again, or will you be heading back to West Yorkshire Playhouse etc 'up north' ?

A: Much of the satisfaction of doing the play again with a different cast (Owen Teale replaced Broadway's David Strathairn as Kurt) was uncovering corners of the relationship between the three main characters that had laid hidden first time round. That is nothing to do with quality of performance, rather difference of temperament. Perhaps, crudely, Mirren concentrated on the theatrical background of Alice, who gave up the stage for her marriage, and the de la Tour approach which was to analyse the nature of the love/hate which binds Alice to Edgar.

I worked for Laurence Olivier's fledgling National Theatre Company in 1965 when it was based at the Old Vic Theatre in London but each summer played a season of its repertoire in the Chichester Festival Theatre which he had earlier opened as artistic director.


From: jenny@higham007.freeserve.co.uk jenny

Q: While attending the last performance of 'Dance of Death' at the Lyric theatre in June I couldn't help but notice the presence of cameras both in the theatre and then outside while you were signing autographs. There was a rumour that it was for The South Bank Show but I have been on the site and it is not mentioned. I would hate to miss the feature.

A: The recording of Dance of Death happened over the final three performances, with one fixed camera. So we ended up with three versions which John Drsicoll (the lighting designer who organised the shooting) will cut before Sean Mathias makes his final choice. The result is not for public consumption just a private memento for the actors and technicians who worked on that production. However, it may be possible for the South Bank Show who are following me around intermittently for 12 months, to use a short extract for broadcasting. The quality of the digital camera is superb. So is the acting! at least from de la Tour and Teale.



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