WHEN one of the world’s leading actors says he couldn’t wait to return to Malvern to perform his latest play, you can’t help but feel a little proud of your local theatre.

Sir Ian McKellen is back at Malvern Theatres two years after the sell-out production of Waiting for Godot, and he’s hoping to do the same with Eduardo De Filippo’s The Syndicate – a dark comedy about the Italian underworld.

“We broke all the records with Waiting for Godot,” he said, sitting in his dressing room yesterday. “So I was really looking forward to Malvern turning out again.”

Sir Ian – who starred as Gandalf the wizard in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy – is hoping theatre-lovers of all ages will be spellbound about this play about the Mafia, which predates The Godfather and the Sopranos.

He said: “I do not want people to miss this play. It’s not going to London as I’ve got to go back to New Zealand [where he is filming The Hobbit].

"There are just a few tickets left. I would hate to meet someone in a year who hadn’t managed to see it.”

He speaks passionately about the play, which centres on his character Don Antonio – a man who rules 1950s Naples with a rod of steel handing out his own type of justice, but gets too involved with a young man who wants to kill his father.

“It’s in the Hobbit contract that I have to be able to go to England to do The Syndicate.

"I did three months in New Zealand and all the time I was thinking I will soon be in a rehersal room putting on a play .”

Part of his enthusiasm for the play comes from the fact this is his 50th year as a professional actor, and he wanted to make sure he performed on the stage – although he enjoys films too.

Sir Ian – who plans to make time to do a bit of walking on the Malvern Hills while he is in the county – added: “Fortunately, I do not have to choose between one or the other,” he said.

The Syndicate. Malvern Theatres until Saturday. Tickets cost from £26 to £38. Interview by Flora Drury