Sir Ian McKellen has said he is not a fan of how modern theatre audiences are mollycoddled with warning signs pandering to sensitivities.
Speaking to Sky News ahead of the first night of the London transfer of his new play Frank and Percy, the 84-year-old X-Men and Lord Of The Rings star said: “Outside theatres the audience is warned ‘there is a loud noise’, ‘there are flashing lights’, ‘there is a reference to smoking’, ‘there is reference to bereavement’…
“I like to be surprised by loud noises and outrageous behaviour on stage.”
Should his co-star Roger Allam be worried?
Arguably, the actor – best known for his roles in Endeavor and The Thick Of It – knows what he’s getting into as this isn’t the first time he has worked with Sir Ian on stage.
In 2004, they shared a dressing room while performing in panto at the Old Vic’s production of Aladdin.
Almost 20 years on and this two-hander is rather different, described by Allam as “an old guy gay romcom” about two men who meet walking their dogs.
Exploring grief, death and ageing.
“When I read it I just saw it as a comedy,” Sir Ian explains.
“I didn’t really think of it as being a gay play, but of course it is.”
A prominent LGBTQ campaigner, Sir Ian believes the fact audiences seem to “revel in” seeing their romance unfold onstage suggests “that the world has actually become a better place over the last 10 years”.
Both actors feel that it is short-sighted that desire in middle age is a subject so rarely tackled by scriptwriters in TV, film or theatre.
As Sir Ian explains: “In this case, it’s grandparents having sex… and people are living longer and presumably having sex longer.
“[While] we all like to see young people and we’re remembering what it was like… actually older people can be a lot more interesting than young people because they’ve been through a lot more.”
Certainly the case with Sir Ian having played arch-villains, wise wizards and collected six Oliviers over the years.
But what’s it like starring opposite him in “an old guy gay romcom”?
It would seem there is a substantial element of teasing…
Delivering a sharp jab to the ribs, Sir Ian says: “He’s fun to tease, is Roger.”
“Did you see that?” Allam pleads.
Frank and Percy is at The Other Palace, London until 17 December.