With a glut of roles from Hamlet to Gandalf behind him, 84-year-old Ian McKellen has absolutely nothing left to prove. He’s clearly on stage for the pure joy of it, and that sense of delight shines through in mischievous gay romcom Frank and Percy, where he and Roger Allam have a ball, playing friends-turned-lovers. McKellen pulls on a tiny rainbow-coloured tutu, strikes mock-alluring poses to disco anthems, and has the audience in fits with knowing comments about a “dextrous tongue” that’s schooled in saucier purposes than Shakespearean couplets.
Writer Ben Weatherill’s wry comedy is a precision-tooled vehicle for McKellen and Allam’s talents, one that’s motoring into London after a hit premiere at Theatre Royal Windsor in June.
It starts out in mundane territory. Against the grey skies of Hampstead Heath, confidently gay, confidently everything sociologist Percy (McKellen) and outwardly straight, recently bereaved retired teacher Frank (Allam) are watching their dogs play (in a witty touch, speakers that emit woofs and barks are hidden amongst the audience). Their conversation is colourless, at first. They talk about ways to die: the horrors of lonely heart attacks, and creeping pneumonia. Then Percy interjects: “deep-throating a cucumber?” His sudden outbreak of naughtiness sets the tone for what follows. Frank is the straight man here in both senses, a foil for Percy’s flamboyant wit, and a novice in the world of gay dating that he’s oh-so-gently introduced to.
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