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Sir Ian McKellen launches ‘pay it forward’ appeal to give away 1,000 free panto tickets to families with bucket collection

Photo of Sir Ian McKellan greeting people in the Northcott foyer

Exeter Northcott Theatre has launched a campaign to help low-income families enjoy Christmas with free pantomime tickets.

The festive give-away aims to hand out 1,000 tickets for the ambitious new production of Beauty and the Beast, which opens on November 30.

Under the initiative, the public are asked to contribute towards a ticket for someone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go.

Every £1 donated will be match funded, so for every £7.50 raised, one £15 ticket will be given to families.

The offer was launched yesterday (July 1) by stage and screen star Sir Ian McKellen, as part of his nationwide charity tour.

The actor, whose 80th birthday tour is raising money to help support emerging artists, announced the ‘pay it forward’ scheme from the stage at the end of his show.

Sir Ian kick-started the campaign by personally collecting more than £1,100 in donations as the audience left the theatre – enough to pay for almost 150 panto tickets.

Artistic and Executive Director Daniel Buckroyd is to write and direct Beauty and the Beast, the first time the show has been staged at the theatre.

He said: “I love the way that panto can bring families and friends together at Christmas and I am thrilled to be continuing the tradition of great Northcott pantos with Beauty and the Beast.

“However, we all know that the festive period can be hard for struggling families so we want to help as many people as possible to experience some theatrical magic

“I would urge anyone who feels able to afford it to donate a free ticket and we will make sure that generosity is doubled.”

Over the past few years, the Northcott – which is a registered charity – has worked with local organisations to allow families to take their children to the panto.

The latest plan doubles the numbers from the previous two years, when 500 tickets were given away through the housing association Live West and the community network Home Start.

Sir Ian is visiting small and large theatres with which he has personal connections, including amateur groups he knew as a child and notable playhouses he has played in as a professional actor.

He returned to the Northcott 50 years after his first appearance as Marlowe’s Edward II in 1969.

Proceeds from the performance will go to support young and emerging artists in Exeter – a cause which is championed by the Northcott’s Creative Learning and Associate programmes.

Sir Ian, who met a group from the Northcott’s Young Company after the show, said the donations would help some people experience the magic of theatre for the first time.

Salcombe Dairy, which has been now been producing ice cream in Devon for 40 years, returned to become the Northcott’s sole supplier in 2018.

Co-owner Dan Bly said: “We have supported the Northcott over many years but more recently have focussed our support on their charity works.

“We passionately believe in the virtuous circle of investing in the local community such that the local community will invest in you.

“This year we will be supporting the Northcott’s giving of tickets to low income families to enable their children to enjoy the magic of the pantomime, and have a number of further ventures planned into 2020.”

Anyone who wishes to donate a ticket can call the Box Office on 01392 72 63 63 or they can visit and the theatre will add a second seat.

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