Wizard booking for theatre’s 50th summer

STAR Sir Ian McKellen as he appeared on TV in The Prisoner and, inset, as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy
STAR Sir Ian McKellen as he appeared on TV in The Prisoner and, inset, as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy
Rehearsals for Hedda Gabler by The Bench, April 2018. Picture by Jacquie Penrose PPP-180504-122002006

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CHICHESTER Festival Theatre has landed a major coup for its 50th summer season with the booking of Sir Ian McKellen for a world premiere.

The actor will take time out from filming as Gandalf in the new two-part screen adaptation of The Hobbit in New Zealand to appear in The Syndicate in Chichester’s intimate Minerva space.

The play is a new adaptation of one by Italian writer Eduardo de Filippo that has never previously been staged in Britain. It will run from July 21 to August 20.

McKellen is one of four knights involved in the summer season, announced today.

It also includes three musicals for the first time in the theatre’s history and a large-scale centenary celebration of one of the outstanding playwrights of the 20th century, Terence Rattigan.

But the booking of McKellen, probably the biggest single male attraction in British theatre, will attract the widest attention.

Festival Theatre artistic director Jonathan Church said: ‘He will play a Mafia boss who runs Naples in a glorious, darkly comic play.’

Church said he did not set out to stage three musicals but ‘it just happened’.

She Loves Me, which opens the season on May 9, is an intimate romance. It will feature Joe McFadden, who starred in Chichester’s How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and is also a familiar face from TV’s Heartbeat and Cranford.

At the end of the season comes the long-promised Sweeney Todd with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. Church described the Stephen Sondheim work as ‘the biggest piece of musical theatre we have produced, almost operatic in scale.’

And to keep faith with the masses who have attended the big midsummer musicals in ever-increasing numbers, that slot will be filled by Singin’ In The Rain, with Adam Cooper in the Gene Kelly role.

Two of the season’s other knights collaborate in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead – writer Sir Tom Stoppard and director Sir Trevor Nunn. And Sir David Hare has written South Downs as a companion piece for Rattigan’s one-act masterpiece The Browning Version.

Both are set in public schools and will be performed by one company of actors – and another group will perform both Rattigan’s full-length masterpiece, The Deep Blue Sea, and a new full-length play called Rattigan’s Nijinsky, based on a screenplay Rattigan wrote but then mysteriously withdrew.

Although this is CFT’s 50th year, Church said bigger celebrations were planned for the 50th anniversary season in 2012.

n Don’t miss The Guide, in The News tomorrow, for full details of the season, with dates and booking arrangements.