Ian McKellen to play Falstaff in Shakespeare adaptation Player Kings

Sir Ian McKellen attends UK launch event for Disney's "Beauty And The Beast" at Spencer House on February 23, 2017 in London, EnglandGetty Images

Sir Ian McKellen is to appear in a new play which blends parts one and two of Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

The actor will play John Falstaff, a character he has never portrayed despite appearing in a huge number of Shakespeare plays throughout his life.

Director Robert Icke’s production of Player Kings will play in Manchester and London next year.


Sir Ian told BBC News the offer to appear in the “ingenious adaptation” was “irresistible”.

The production will open in March, playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre and Manchester Opera House, before transferring to the West End for a 12-week run at the Noël Coward Theatre from April to June.

Sir Ian said: “I decided to become a professional actor at Cambridge in 1959, when I was in John Barton’s undergraduate production of Henry IV. Derek Jacobi played Prince Hal and I was the ancient Justice Shallow.

“Ever since, the plays have been among my favourite Shakespeares, although through the years I’ve resisted offers to play John Falstaff. Robert Icke’s ingenious adaptation was irresistible.”

Sir Ian McKellen in promotional image for Player Kings


Sir Ian’s previous Shakespeare credits include roles as Richard II, Coriolanus, Iago, Richard III, King Lear and Macbeth – in which he starred opposite Dame Judi Dench. He is set to star as Hamlet in a new film adaptation directed by Sean Mathias.

For over a decade, Sir Ian also toured his one-man show, Acting Shakespeare, in the UK and abroad.

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The text of Player Kings will be entirely made up of Shakespeare dialogue, however the parts one and two of Henry IV are being condensed and reorganised into one show.

John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare and is eulogised in a fourth. The character is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V.

Icke’s last new London production The Doctor opened at the Almeida theatre in 2019 but later transferred to the West End and Broadway.

The director said: “It’s a genuine honour to work with one of our greatest Shakespearean actors, Ian McKellen, especially as he tackles one of the most iconic Shakespearean roles – and one he’s previously never turned his hand to. It’s an exciting challenge to bring together two of Shakespeare’s plays into one production.”

Sir Ian’s screen credits include Magneto in the X-Men films and as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, as well as roles in The Da Vinci Code, Mr Holmes, Beauty and the Beast and The Good Liar.

November marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio, without which several of the Bard’s most famous plays would have been lost.

Related Topics

  • Theatre
  • William Shakespeare