Five lucky teenagers were handed the chance to meet acting legend Sir Ian McKellen after a regular theatregoer offered free tickets to his sold-out show at Exeter Northcott Theatre.
The celebrated actor announced he was bringing his 80th birthday tour to raise money to help support emerging artists and the show sold out almost immediately.
Exeter solicitor Endurance Arthur managed to secure tickets for the Exeter date and – inspired by Sir Ian’s mission to help the next generation of performers – decided to buy five extra tickets and give them to young people.
Three members of the Northcott Young Company had their names drawn from a hat and two students from Exeter College’s Performance Academy were hand-picked for their hard work and dedication.
Endurance, a partner at Tozers who also leads her firm’s charity and social responsibility team, said it was a spur of the moment decision as she was booking her family’s seats for the July 1 charity performance.
She said: “At that moment I realised I had the opportunity to make a real difference to young people who might not be able to experience the sort of things my own children can.”
The gesture came as the Northcott launched a ‘pay it forward’ appeal to give away 1,000 free panto tickets to families who would not otherwise be able to go to the theatre.
Sir Ian took to the stage on Monday, July 1 to announce the initiative, which match funds every £1 donated and provides one free ticket for each £7.50 paid forward.
He then personally collected more than £1,100 in bucket donations as the audience left the theatre – enough to pay for almost 150 panto tickets.
Endurance hopes that her “pay it forward” act will inspire others to do something similar by calling call the Box Office on 01392 72 63 63 or visiting www.exeternorthcott.co.uk/christmas-giving.
Sir Ian returned to the Northcott 50 years after his first appearance as Marlowe’s Edward II in 1969.
Esther Kenig, aged 17, May Housego, 14, Natasha Pavey, 17, Bradley Swinbank, 16, and Noah Ricketts, 15, were among the packed house for the three-hour show.
Afterwards, Sir Ian he took time to chat to the young actors and pose for a photo.
Noah Ricketts, 15, said it had been inspirational to see such a big name and amazing to get acting tips.
“I really enjoyed the whole experience – seeing someone like Sir Ian gave a unique perspective and I felt I learned something just by watching him delivering lines,” he added.
“During the show, he talked about the element of luck in his career and how sometimes it is down to being in the right place at the right time as much as talent and experience.
“Afterwards when he told us about the learning from others – taking on techniques and incorporating them into your repertoire
“He also talked about the importance of regional theatre and the Young Company – lots of opportunities are in London and down here it can be hard to get involved at a high level
“We all found it inspirational and were a little bit awestruck – it was incredibly exciting, like meeting someone from fantasy.”
Artistic and Executive Director Daniel Buckroyd thanked Endurance for the kindness and said the group had been given a masterclass in performing.
“The show was a fascinating journey through an amazing career which has seen almost everything – from youth production to amateur dramatics, through repertory theatre, the RSC to panto and Hollywood blockbusters,” he added.
“To hear all that in one evening along with brilliantly performed Shakespearian monologues, songs and poetry is a rare experience and something to be treasured by everyone who was there.
“It was an extremely thoughtful and generous act by Endurance, and one that these young people will never forget.”