TV should show more one-off plays, says Sir Ian McKellen

Screen and stage star Sir Ian McKellen has called on TV channels to broadcast more plays – as he prepares to tread the boards live on air.

The Lord Of Rhe Rings and X-Men actor, 77, will appear in a production of Harold Pinter’s play No Man’s Land in the West End, which will be broadcast live to cinemas on Thursday.

He told the Press Association: “I was brought up educated, as far as drama is concerned, not just by going to the theatre but by listening to plays on the radio and watching plays on television.

“There are much fewer one-off plays done now, by either radio or television. And I think that’s a pity.

“There is a quite a large audience for it. When we did The Dresser on television for the BBC it did terribly well… I think there is an audience.”

He said TV bosses are concerned that airing one-off plays would play havoc with their scheduling.

“They think audiences want to know that at 10 o’clock it’s going to be the news and a play that might last two hours upsets the scheduling.

“But that doesn’t apply anymore because so many people don’t watch shows when they come out. They record them and watch them at their own convenience.”

Sir Ian stars alongside Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land, which enjoyed a hit run on Broadway.

They play two ageing writers who become increasingly inebriated after meeting for a drink one summer’s evening, and whose “lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game”.

The screening, from London’s Wyndham’s Theatre, is part of National Theatre Live, which has seen 40 productions including War Horse and Frankenstein broadcast live since 2009.

Sir Ian said: “It is a brilliant way of bringing an actual live performance to people. The thrill for people up and down this country is they’ll be able to see it while it’s happening.

“This is not a recording. Things can go wrong. There’s all the excitement of the live theatre. This is not a performance that anyone has ever seen before.

“This is not a repeat, tonight is the night.”

He added: “People think actors act the same every night. Well this actor doesn’t.

“I take huge inspiration from the audience. It will be interesting to see whether thinking about the audiences in Aberdeen or Barrow-in-Furness and Plymouth… I don’t know how I can take that into my mind…

“I don’t know how it will work and I’m just crossing my fingers that people enjoy it. I’ve never done one before. I’m a big fan of it. I think it’s a very, very good idea.”

He said of No Man’s Land: “It’s a really funny play, it’s a very upsetting play, it’s very dark. It’s a wonderful mixture of not knowing where you are, what’s going to happen next. You’re always rather nervous that something dreadful’s going to happen.

“And it’s short. I think that’s a help.”

No Man’s Land will be broadcast live to cinemas across the UK and internationally on Thursday.

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