McKellen criticises Govt’s anti-paedophile laws

Feb 8, 2010
Tim Edwards

Veteran actor warns that new child protection rules could undermine British theatre

Sir Ian McKellen has added his voice to criticisms of the Government's controversial Vetting and Barring Scheme after he claimed some theatres are having to avoid shows with children in the cast because they don't have the time to deal with the extra paperwork.

McKellen told the BBC's Panorama programme that a combination of the government's new scheme, designed to prevent paedophiles from working with children, and rules on chaperoning children during rehearsals could result in the loss of a generation of actors. He said that if such restrictions had been in place when he was a child, he may never have become an actor.

McKellen, 70, a veteran of stage productions and Hollywood blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings films, is patron of the Little Theatre Guild, a body that represents more than 100 amateur theatre groups.

The extra administration has proved particularly problematic for theatres. The programme reveals that the Loft Theatre in Leamington Spa no longer casts children in its productions. Its chairman, Michael Rayns, claimed the extra paperwork that the Vetting and Barring Scheme imposes on unpaid amateurs is too much on top of the already strict chaperone rules.

McKellen also sees no need for the extension of chaperones. Currently, children need only be accompanied on dress rehearsal and performance nights. The new rules would mean children must be chaperoned at all rehearsals. "Good practice is that no child should ever be in a one-to-one relationship during rehearsal period," says McKellen. "There doesn't seem to me to be any danger."

McKellen said that if he hadn't been allowed to perform as a child, "the 15-year-old Ian McKellen would be absolutely miserable and wouldn't have grown up to be this person today".

McKellen's intervention piles further pressure on an already nervous Government, which has already been forced to tweak the Vetting and Barring Scheme after an outcry last autumn from authors who objected to registering in order to carry out occasional visits to schools. Philip Pullman, writer of the His Dark Materials trilogy, called the new rules "rather dispiriting and sinister".  

In December, schools secretary Ed Balls announced only adults who see the same group of children once a week or more, rather than once a month, will have to sign up.

However, Meg Hillier, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity, is unmoved. She told Panorama: "If any of those companies are saying that they wouldn't have children in their performances they really do need to ring the hotline for advice.

"I think some of these concerns are from people who imagine there might be worries but perhaps aren't going through the normal process of being a volunteer and doing it every week anyway."

Panorama: Are You a Danger to Kids? BBC One, Monday, February 8, 8.30pm.

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