Sunday 19 July 2020

Britain is still a country where at least one public figure, an old Knight of the Stage called Sir Ian McKellen, can still act with chivalry

Among the more familiar virtues listed in the Code of Chivalry for knights in the Middle Ages, like Courage, Faith and Humility was 'Largesse' or : 'Be generous in so far as your resources allow.'

In the coronavirus-smitten land of empty theatres with laid-off ushers, stage hands, dressers and those who work on the stage door, struggling to survive during lockdown : step forward 80 year old, Sir Ian McKellen, the renowned stage and screen star, lately of Gandalf fame in Peter Jackson’s 'Tolkien' films, who has helped to launch an emergency fund to support them.

Ian said : “Many people who work in the theatre industry have seen their livelihoods disappear due to the coronavirus lockdown. I, for example, have received a distressing letter from a stage manager who is facing eviction from his home and can’t access Government relief.” As a result he has kicked off the fundraising drive with his largesse : a donation of £40,000 of the money raised from his recent 80th birthday tour of British theatres.

Ian didn't know that he would be donating his sum of money during his tour in 2019 which was entitled : 'Ian McKellen on Stage: Tolkien, Shakespeare and You!' and saw him perform in 90 theatre venues in England, Scotland and Wales during the course of a year and a major feat for a 79 year old. When he made his donation he had in mind help to the costumiers, wig makers, props assistants, scene painters, lighting and sound operators, box office and bar staff as well as cleaners.

Adam Bambrough, the Theatrical Guild’s General Manager said : “These people are a huge part of every single theatrical building in the country and they are the public face of many theatres. As well being mainly freelancers, those with jobs have been hit heavily by the swathe of redundancies happening in theatres. Sadly, I have heard from nine or 10 people who have been contemplating taking their own lives in the last few weeks. Many others are struggling to find the money for food and rent.”

“These individuals are the unsung heroes of every staged performance, without whom there would be no shows. Their variety of skills from creating costumes, operating lighting rigs, and running the box office, to photographing the shows are what make theatre performances possible. Yet, most are low-paid, self-employed or on zero hours contracts so many, through no fault of their own, have fallen between the gaps for Government support."

Meanwhile, Ian is to play Hamlet in an age-blind version of the Shakespeare play, which is thought to be one of the first British theatre productions to begin rehearsals following the easing of Britain's coronavirus lockdown. Ian last played Hamlet at the age of 32 in 1971.

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