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Actor Sir Ian McKellen rallies support for Leas Pavilion fundraising after one-man show at Leas Cliff Hall, in Folkestone

A stage and screen star has used his one-man show in Kent to rally support for the regeneration of a derelict theatre.

Sir Ian McKellen, famed for his roles as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and numerous Shakespearean performances, took to the stage in Folkestone last night and organised a collection at the end of the evening for the Leas Pavilion.

Performing for the first time ever in the town at the Leas Cliff Hall, the six-time Olivier Award winner told the packed 900-seater venue how he seeks to support regional arts venues on tour.

Sir Ian McKellen in the finale of his one-man show (8252600)
Sir Ian McKellen in the finale of his one-man show (8252600)

He is currently touring the country as part of his 80th birthday celebrations with an 80-date tour, which includes his debut on a Folkestone stage.

The actor, who also played Magneto in the X-Men films, explained that the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) manage the Leas Cliff Hall, which is situated along the road from the dilapidated building.

He told the crowd how he hoped to use his platform instead to raise money and support for the Friends of the Leas Pavilion (FLP), a not-for-profit organisation set up to address concerns about the deterioration of the building.

The esteemed performer met with fans in the theatre foyer after the show, taking selfies and collecting money for the cause in yellow buckets.

Sir Ian McKellen meets fans in the Leas Cliff Hall foyer (8251905)
Sir Ian McKellen meets fans in the Leas Cliff Hall foyer (8251905)

The former Edwardian tearoom and theatre has been empty since 2008, and planning permission was previously granted for a development including flats and a gym, but this has since expired and no new plans have been submitted by the owners.

In recent weeks, Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) threatened to take over the listed Victorian tearoom after a developer allowed it to plunge into disrepair.

Previously, the Essex-based developer Churchgate was given permission to overhaul the Grade II former theatre into a health club with 68 flats but it missed the deadline.

Now, FHDC has issued a legal repairs notice detailing six pages of works necessary to protect the building and preserve it for the future. If it is not completed by the deadline, the council can ask the Secretary of State to issue a compulsory purchase order, meaning it could buy the building.

Sir Ian McKellen meets fans in the Leas Cliff Hall foyer (8251911)
Sir Ian McKellen meets fans in the Leas Cliff Hall foyer (8251911)

The Victorian Society and Save Britain’s Heritage have both included the pavilion in a list of buildings that are ‘at risk’ nationally.

The Radnor Estate sold the Leas Pavilion and surrounding land to Churchgate in 2007 for £3.2 million on a 150 year lease.

It led to the formation of the FLP campaign group in an attempt to keep the venue as a community space and the group is in the process of trying to obtain a 100-year lease from Churchgate.

Sir Ian McKellen performed in Folkestone last night
Sir Ian McKellen performed in Folkestone last night

The pavilion first opened as tearooms in 1902. The reason for it being sunk into the street was the ‘ancient lights’ clause in leases for hotels on either side meaning no building could be built more than 7ft above street level, to ensure daylight would not be blocked from these buildings. After its time as a tearooms, the building was converted into a theatre until its closure in 1985.

Its last incarnation was as a nightclub before the venue shut its doors in 2010.

The pavilion was Folkestone’s first cinema in 1911, and was used by soldiers billeted in Folkestone during the First World War, and was the town’s last repertory theatre.

Sir Ian is not the only celebrity to lend his support to the project, with comedian Vic Reeves and EastEnders actress June Brown also previously raising awareness of the building’s heritage.

The Leas Pavilion. Picture: Gary Browne FM4486356
The Leas Pavilion. Picture: Gary Browne FM4486356
The Leas, Folkestone. Picture: Gary Browne FM4064868
The Leas, Folkestone. Picture: Gary Browne FM4064868

During his show, the two-time Academy Award nominee took the audience on a journey of his life and love of theatre, with a career which spans more than 50 years in the industry.

He began the show with Lord of the Rings theme music, and read a passage from the novel, which included his classic movie line 'You shall not pass!'.

In addition, he brought up on stage young American actor Iain Armitage, who had flown over from the States to see the show.

The 10-year-old is best known for playing Young Sheldon in the spin-off series of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory. He shared his delight on Twitter, saying: "Travelled to Folkestone, England to see Sir Ian McKellen be incredible in his one man show! Thank you, Sir @IanMcKellen!"

The pair 'duelled' on stage with Gandalf's sword. He added: "Got a lift home from the star of the show- What a night, what a Knight!!!!"

He even performed a sketch as a pantomime dame, and also referenced his upcoming role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's film adaptation of the musical Cats, performing one of the poems which the musical is based on by T. S. Eliot.

The second act was dedicated to the complete works of Shakespeare, as the actor challenged the audience to remember the names of all 37 plays.

He also performed at least half a dozen monologues by heart from the likes of Hamlet, Macbeth and As You Like It.

He also spoke about 'coming out of the closet... or cupboard in England' in his late forties and subsequently joining the campaign for LGBT+ rights.

Sir Ian McKellen meets fans in the Leas Cliff Hall foyer (8251907)
Sir Ian McKellen meets fans in the Leas Cliff Hall foyer (8251907)

The FLP group took to Facebook last night, expressing their surprise: "Sir Ian McKellen after his performance in Folkestone this evening - with a collection bucket, collecting money from the audience for the Leas Pavilion! We did not know that was coming, but he was obviously impressed by his visit to us this afternoon!"

The actor, who also has a a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, four BAFTA nominations and five Emmy Award nominations, is well known to millions for his role as the wizard in the J. R. R. Tolkien film franchise.

In many parts of the country, tickets for his tour sold out within hours.

He said previously: "I’m celebrating my 80th birthday by touring a new solo show to theatres I know well and a few that I don’t. The show starts with Gandalf and will probably end with an invitation to act with me on stage. In between there will be anecdotes and acting.

"Live theatre has always been thrilling to me, as an actor and in the audience. This will be my Folkestone début - long overdue.”

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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