The Festival has been branded “elitist” by critics after declaring the Lord of the Rings star’s four appearances – in which he will reprise some of his most famous roles – a sell-out within minutes of the box office opening on Saturday. EIF patrons who pay up to £3,000 a year for a range of benefits were able to secure seats up to ten days beforehand.
Sir Ian announced a tour of 80 venues across the UK, including the 840-capacity Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, last November to mark his 80th birthday next month.
However, public ticket sales for the four-night EIF run did not begin until Saturday, when all other shows in its programme went on public sale.
Billed as an intimate mix of anecdote and acting reflecting on his career, the show will see him return to the venue on The Mound 50 years after he made his debut at the Festival.
At the time the tour was announced, the Olivier Award-winning actor said: “I’m celebrating my 80th birthday by touring a new solo show to theatres I know well and a few that I don’t. The evening starts with Gandalf and will probably end with an invitation to act with me on stage. In between there will be anecdotes and acting.
“Live theatre has always been thrilling to me, as an actor and in the audience. At the Edinburgh International Festival in 1969 I played Edward II and Richard II together at the Assembly Hall. My return is a chance to remember the old days and reprise Shakespeare and others.”
However, fans who were hoping to see Sir Ian in Edinburgh took to social media after being left empty-handed. They claimed the vast bulk of the tickets for the actor’s EIF run were bought by people who are part of an official membership scheme.
The festival has refused to reveal how many of the tickets for Ian McKellen’s appearances went on public sale, but admitted they “sold out very quickly due to incredibly high demand.”
Priority booking opened for the “ambassador plus” memberships, which cost £3,000 each, on 27 March, the day the EIF programme was announced. “Patrons” who paid up to £550 got access to tickets two days later, while booking for “Festival Friends”, who paid up to £120 each, opened on 30 March.
Many fans expressed their disappointment online. Su Kelly said: “I’m heartbroken. Been waiting 2buy @IanMcKellen tickets for @edintfest since last year when he first announced his tour dates.
“Was going to travel but wanted to see him in my home town. Sadly had to wait for general sales after members sales – so of course all sold out.
“There would’ve only been a small amount of tickets for us regular folks. Only looking for fair opportunities #Equality”
Sian Jones said: “I’ve been waiting for this general release date for ages to then find nothing was available. I’m heartbroken that those that can’t afford to be a member don’t get an equal chance.”
Alison Stewart said: “If they were sold out before they should have said that instead of giving people hope they could still get a ticket! Gutted.”
Another fan, posting under the name Gin & Curiosity, told the actor: “What a shame your Edinburgh shows were parcelled up with @edintfest.
“They seemingly pre-sold the majority of tickets to their wealthy patrons/friends for 10 days in advance and refuse to say how many tickets were actually released to the general public. #elitist”
The Festival responded to complaints by insisting that tickets for each of Sir Ian’s appearances did go on public sale with all the other events in the programme. However, it did not specify what proportion of tickets were held back from the pre-sale.
It said: “An allocation was held back for ticket sales opening to everyone at 10am today. It’s just been incredibly popular and sold out very quickly.”
A spokeswoman added: “I’m afraid that we can’t comment on the specific sales or ticket allocations across individual performances, nor on sales against individual membership types.
“We have experienced a high level of public interest in Ian McKellen on Stage since it was announced as part of our 2019 programme in November, echoing the high demand for tickets across the show’s UK tour.
“We may release further tickets in the lead up to the show. This will be announced on our website.”