McKellen `may not act in London again'

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SIR IAN McKellen may never act in London again.

Yesterday, one of Britain's finest and best-known classical actors said he was disillusioned with London audiences. He questioned whether some people who came to the National Theatre could even speak English and said he was going to act in Leeds where the council had "old socialist principles".

Sir Ian, who has been a key figure at the National Theatre for two decades, will spend the next seven months acting at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, where he will appear in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Noel Coward's Present Laughter and The Seagull by Chekhov, as part of that theatre's repertory company under the director Jude Kelly.

He said yesterday: "Who are you playing to at the Olivier Theatre [the National's largest auditorium]? Do they speak the language? Last night at Oklahoma there wasn't a black face in the audience. That's an odd thing in this city and at this time.

"I'm going back to rep with local audiences and a community of actors.

"These shows will be for the people of Leeds and we won't be bringing them to London. And I'm very happy. My best work has been in small theatres where audiences are close to you. I've made a vow never to work in a theatre which forces me to betray the soul of acting."

In an interview with The Independent after the West Yorkshire Playhouse season launch, Sir Ian said: "In London you don't know where the audiences live or where they are coming from. In Leeds or Bristol or Bolton or Glasgow the audience look on that theatre as theirs and you're a visitor welcomed into the life of the city.

"If you stay there six months you become a local resident. This may sound sentimental but it's heartfelt. Leeds is run by old socialist principles. There is free opera and ballet in the park and a wonderful community theatre.

"The negative side is that you're not paid much money. I'm going to be out of pocket so it couldn't be a permanent way of life. But I think it is possible I may not be seen on the London stage again."

Sir Ian said the most enjoyable experience of acting was in rep where the same company of actors appear in several plays.

"At the National Theatre last year," he added, "I was in Peter Pan and Ibsen's Enemy of the People. There were 171 actors and only one of them was in more than two plays. So it's not a company."