When it was decided to bring their Broadway hit, No Man’s Land, to the UK both Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were keen that audiences beyond London should see it.
They will open Harold Pinter’s drama at the Lyceum next week in the first of four regional dates before its West End run.
They play ageing writers Hirst and Spooner who meet in a pub and adjourn to Hirst’s stately house. The conversation turns into a power game, complicated by the appearance of two sinister younger men.
It reflects the value these theatrical knights place on being introduced to quality theatre growing up in the North.
“I have always been grateful to actors who toured to the North when I was young a long time ago,” says Burnley-born McKellen. “Why should people have to travel to London? If you are doing a play in the UK, London should be just one of the places you tour to, although audiences are larger there.”
Adds Stewart: “Ian is passionate it is our duty and responsibility to take theatre out of London and show it around the UK and I support that.”
It turns out both have strong memories of Sheffield.
Ian McKellen appeared at the Crucible in its very first week back in 1971 when artistic director Colin George laid on a week’s entertainment.
“The company let their hair down in a music hall and there was a brass band and kids dancing and audience participation,” he recalls.
“I did a short play by Chekhov, Swan Song, in which an old actor is locked in a theatre overnight. We weren’t the first to step on stage at the Crucible but it was the first play.
“I worked at the Crucible again in a one-man performance but I’ve never worked in the Lyceum before.”
Stewart’s experience pre-dates even that. “The first time I was ever just an actor as opposed to actor/stage manager making coffee and sweeping the floors was when Geoffrey Ost at the Sheffield Playhouse offered me a job as an actor.
“I spent 18 months – the happiest of my life – working in that old theatre and I came back later for two more productions.
“So I have nothing but happy memories of my time in Sheffield.
“I have never worked in the Lyceum but I used to see touring productions there and of course the famous Lyceum pantomime at Christmas. I never missed one.
“Sheffield is only a few miles from Mirfield so it’s close to home and I will be surrounded by my own people.”
No Man’s Land is at the Lyceum. Sheffield, from August 3-13. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or Sheffield Theatres