Stage Spy: Is Ian McKellen set to play Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2?

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Sir Ian McKellen, one of Britain’s leading actors, may to heading to the West End to play Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2.

Rumours are circulating that Sir Ian may have finally cracked, and is willing to give us his Falstaff, after years of saying he wouldn’t.

The part of the fat, uproarious counsellor to the young Prince Hal is one that he has long avoided, but he told Christiane Amanpou on CNN back in February that he may finally agree to take on the mammoth and legendary Shakespeare role.

After Roger Allam played Falstaff at Shakespeare’s Globe back in 2010, Sir Ian said in his one-man show Ian McKellen on Stage – With Tolkien, Shakespeare, others… that it had made him give up any desire to play the chubby knight, as Allam’s performance could not be topped. (Sir Ian and Roger have recently been starring alongside each other in Frank and Percy, which is also another West End transfer contender.)

But McKellen has had a number of past opportunities to play Falstaff.

When Gregory Doran was running the RSC and was staging the Henrys, he famously asked Ian McKellen to star as Falstaff, but McKellen declined, saying that it was not the part for him. Doran told The New Yorker that McKellen said “Why are you looking for Falstaff when you live with him?”. Doran subsequently cast his longtime partner Antony Sher in the part, and thanks to McKellen, was a huge success in Stratford-upon-Avon and around the world. Sher sadly died in December 2021.

McKellen also told Canada’s The Globe and Mail in 2018 when asked about giving up Shakespeare that “I probably said that and somebody probably wrote it down. I don’t know. Where do you go after playing King Lear? I don’t want to play Falstaff; it’s another big part but I’ve never quite understood that person.”

Well, could McKellen have changed his mind?

Ian McKellen & Danny Webb in King Lear, Duke of York's Theatre, London
Ian McKellen as King Lear & Danny Webb as Gloucester. Photo by Johan Persson

Promoting his panto Mother Goose on CNN, which played the Duke of York’s Theatre at the beginning of the year, he told Amanpou that “Yes, I think I’m probably going to do more Shakespeare…I’ve been asked to play Falstaff, which is a mighty part in two of my favourite plays, Henry IV, Part I and Part II.”

He went on to say that “It’s a part I’ve resisted and may still resist, but I am considering it… I think it’s a very difficult part. Do I want something difficult at the moment? Well, perhaps I do, yes, I would like the challenge, yes.”

McKellen was last on stage in the West End playing a Shakespeare role back in 2018, with King Lear breaking box-office records at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

When and where Ian McKellen will star in Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 is still unknown, although theatres in the West End that tend to host plays include the Noel Coward Theatre, the Duke of York’s Theatre, the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and the Harold Pinter Theatre.

Let’s see!

📷 Main photo: Sir Ian McKellen, one of Britain's leading actors, may to heading to the West End to play Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts 1 and 2.

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