West Yorkshire Playhouse

October 1998 -  February 1999

Ian McKellen by Greg Gorman
Ian McKellen, 1998
Greg Gorman

"On returning to the Royal National Theatre, I had been keen to be one of the actors in Trevor Nunn's new company but they were not scheduled to rehearse until late 1998. I was impatient because I wanted to leave 1999 free for possible filmwork, which a further season at the NT would impede.

So I asked Jude Kelly, artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse if she could quickly assemble a company to mount three plays in early autumn. She agreed that I could be free by the end of February 1999 and together we chose the plays. I began wanting to play Dr. Dorn in Chekov's "The Seagull" and dame in a Christmas pantomime. Kelly was insistent that I should play 2 leading roles. In the end we picked two masterly plays about theatre-life, "The Seagull" was to be followed by NoÃÆ'«l Coward's "Present Laughter." Both offered a range of good parts for all the actors. Instead of dame, I settled for Prospero in "The Tempest." — Ian McKellen, October 1999

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West Yorkshire Playhouse Interior

"I was excited by the plays and the 12 actors whom Kelly cast to present them. It would be a return to my personal and professional roots, working in a regional repertory theatre in the north of England. I was attracted too by the contrast between the homogenious audience that a local theatre attracts, compared with the disparate groupings who patronise London theatres, including the NT. All this I reported to a press conference held at the Criterion Theatre for the national media in September 1998.

"Afterwards, I elaborated to the arts correspondent of The Independent newspaper. During the interview I observed that the NT's appeal to the general populace was uncertain - the previous night at Trevor Nunn's new production of 'Oklahoma' for instance the entire audience was white-skinned. In parting I was asked when I expected to be back on the London stage - I smiled: 'Who knows? I may never work here again.'

"These remarks were translated by an over-enthusiastic sub-editor into 'McKellen May Never Act in London Again' and illustrated by selective comments that ignored my real motives for working in Leeds and caricatured them as a dissatisfaction with the mono-racial audiences I had played to at the NT. I didn't think this worth correcting, although The Independent offered me space for an article.

"I didn't anticipate the subsequent fuss, public and private, from friends and others who thought I was emigrating to Yorkshire in some sort of sulk. The most amusing of the mistaken reactions was Peter Hall's when he said I was a cunning manipulator of the press and would undoubtedly not act in London again until, of course I decided to do so! But he was right that the publicity had an impression on the WYP box-office where all 3 plays rapidly sold out.

"All the excitable comments from the London-centric media boiled down to a familiar metropolitan arrogance. Anyone working outside does so because either he can't get work in London or he hates London. Neither of these was true in my case."

— Ian McKellen, October 1999

The Plays

1998Courtyard Company
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Anton Chekov translated by Tom Stoppard

DIRECTOR: Jude Kelly
ROLE: Dr. Dorn

1998Courtyard Company
West Yorkshire Playhouse


Noel Coward
DIRECTOR: Malcolm Sutherland
ROLE: Garry Essendine

1999Courtyard Company
West Yorkshire Playhouse
William Shakespeare
DIRECTOR: Jude Kelly
ROLE: Prospero


January 2001 - July 2006
Dance of Death, Aladdin

Stage Index

Plays by Title

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