STAGE legend Sir Ian McKellen hailed The Royalty Theatre’s production of Macbeth as “absolutely terrific”.
The actor, who is known as one of the greatest Shakespearean performers of our times, was on the other side of the curtain as part of a visit to Sunderland’s oldest community theatre.
Sir Ian, who is also known for his roles in The Lord of The Rings, The Da Vinci Code and Coronation Street, came to the Royalty Theatre – his first visit to Wearside – in his role as patron of the Little Theatre’s Guild.
Speaking after the performance, he said: “I thought it was absolutely terrific, very impressive. It was rapid, exciting, clear. What more could you want?”
During his time at the Chester Road theatre, Sir Ian met cast members and had a tour of the 200-seat theatre, which last year faced closure due to dwindling audience figures.
The success of recent shows, however, has turned its fortunes around.
“My sister took me to see Macbeth at Wigan Little Theatre when I was about seven, which I think was one of the first plays I ever saw,” he explained.
“I’ve never drawn a distinction between amateur and professional theatre. Most professionals started off in amateur theatre.”
In his role as patron of The Little Theatre Guild, Sir Ian is aiming to visit all 100 of its theatres.
He said: “I am always sentimental about The Little Theatre Guild. Not only does it provide cheap theatre for audiences, it provides experience for people who can’t get enough of performing but have other jobs.”
He added: “I think the theatre has a lovely feel.
“I have relatives in Houghton and Newcastle, but this is my first visit to Sunderland.”
The actor’s visit coincided with the news that budget cuts have forced the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to axe its North East performance season at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal for the first time since 1977.
The annual visit has long been a highlight of the arts calendar, attracting audiences from across the region.
Sir Ian said: “I was part of the first company to come to Newcastle in 77. I think the people in the region should be pretty fed up about this news.”