Lord of the Rings star Ian McKellen launches quest over Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue's ‘iconic’ clock tower

He is known to millions as the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings fantasy films.

Monday, 25th July 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Monday, 25th July 2022, 2:57 pm

But now Sir Ian McKellen has embarked on a new quest – to get the historic clock outside his Fringe venue working again before he launches a new show there.

The 83-year-old actor, who is about to appear in a new production of Hamlet at the former St Stephen's Church in Stockbridge, has issued an appeal to find an expert able to restore the clock in the 162-foot high tower, which is said to boast one of the longest pendulums in the world.

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    He has also suggested the clock could be set three minutes early to help theatre-goers get to performances in the venue, in the same way the clock at the Balmoral Hotel always runs early to help commuters catch trains from Waverley Station.

    Speaking in a BBC Radio Scotland interview to be broadcast later this week, McKellen said he had been baffled by the faulty clock on his way to rehearsals in the building, which Danish ballet dancer, director and choreographer Peter Schaufuss has taken over.

    Mr Schaufuss, who also owns the Rose Theatre on Rose Street, is collaborating with the stage and screen star, who made his first Edinburgh Festival appearance in 1969, on the coming production of Hamlet. The show will see Sir Ian appear alongside ballet dancers.

    In an interview for The Afternoon Show on Radio Scotland, Sir Ian said: “I wonder if someone out there listening can help.

    Sir Ian McKellen will be playing Hamlet in a new production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. Picture: Devin de Vil

    “Anyone who has looked down George Street to the far distance will inevitably see this magnificent 19th-century church designed by Mr Playfair, with its tower, its turrets and clock.

    “I asked Peter Schaufuss, who now owns the building, if we could fix the clock and he said it was technically the responsibility of the council.

    "They have sent a firm of experts along to get the clock going and it did. It only kept the correct time for about 90 minutes. Someone else was brought in and the same thing happened again.

    “Now, is there anybody out there who can get that clock working before we start out performances of Hamlet on August 2? There may be somebody who knows how these old clocks work.

    Sir Ian McKellen and Lucy Fleming starring in the Edinburgh International Festival production of Richard in 1969 at the Assembly Hall.

    “I will give them a clue. It has the longest pendulum in northern Europe. It is waiting to be swung into action again to get that clock working. It’s an iconic clock in an iconic building.

    “I gather that the clock at Waverley Station always runs three minutes fast so that you don’t miss your train. We could perhaps do the same at the theatre. The bells are also still in the church – we could announce that performances are about to begin by chiming them.”

    More than half a century after playing Hamlet in London’s West End, Sir Ian will share the title role with lead dancer Johan Christiansen in the new Fringe show at the recently-refurbished Ashton Hall at St Stephen’s, which Mr Schaufuss himself will also be performing in.

    Sir Ian’s involvement with the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe can be traced back to his breakthrough performances in Richard II and Edward II in 1969.

    Sir Ian McKellen will be appearing in Hamlet at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. Picture: John Pasche
    Sir Ian McKellen has pleaded for help to get the clock repaired at his Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue.
    Sir Ian McKellen will appear in Hamlet at the former St Stephen's Church in Stockbridge as part of the Fringe.