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Sir Ian McKellan tops Stage 100 list of most influential theatre people

By: stagedoorscribbler - January 6, 2020

Sir Ian McKellan. Photograph by Oliver Rosser

It used to be the producers and business people who exerted the most influence in theatreland but the latest Stage100 list might just  indicate a slight change of direction with Ian McKellan topping the poll of the most influential people in British Theatre.
He’s is not only the first actor ever to make the top-spot - an honour he shared with  the production team at ATG  but he is joined by two other thespian first-time entrants with Maggie Smith coming in at number 50 and Julian Cary at 51.
Sir Ian shoved theatre  architect Steve Tompkins off he number one spot. But second, third and fourth spots  remain in the hands of producers Sonia Friedman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Macintosh.
It seems fair to say that Sir Ian’s achievement is down to not just his talent and longevity as a revered performer but also his immense support of and generosity towards live theatre
It’s been quite a year for Sir Ian. He turned 80 in May last year and celebrated becoming an octogenarian by embarking on an astonishing one-man tour of 80 plus venues in towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK. What’s more he donated all the profits to a combination of the theatres themselves and theatre charities, raising more than £4million in the process.  
Editor of The Stage, Alistair Smith, described the tour as being “more than a celebration of Ian McKellan’s illustrious career, it was a love letter to theatre itself, and more specifically to local theatre…”
I saw Sir Ian’s tour in July when it stopped at the Lighthouse Centre for the Arts in Poole, Dorset. As with many theatres he played it was one that held particular memories for him.
He had originally performed at the venue when it first opened as Poole Arts Centre back in the late 1970s. He was appearing in a tour of Shakespeare plays and has very good reason to remember that particular theatre.
Wearing full doublet and hose for a performance of Twelfth Night, McKellan was required to enter one particular scene from the auditorium rather than the wings.
He made his way round from backstage to find himself confronted by a young usherette who barred his way and demanded to see his ticket. Realising that she had been ordered not to let anyone in without a ticket, McKellan desperately gestured to his Shakespearian finery and hissed “Do I look like a member of the audience?” The girl looked him up and down and, suddenly realising her mistake, let him in.  Happily with the help of a bit of a dash he made his cue.
One wonders if, decades later he was channelling that poor usherette, when as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, he famously warned “You shall not pass.”