- A feature from the February 2017 issue of Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine
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Stephanie Mackentyre meets Actor and Writer Ian Kelly
If time travel truly were possible, then Ian Kelly would be forever slipping off to visit the 18th century. A modern-day thespian and writer, based in Eye in north Suffolk, he frequently finds himself caught between the 21st century and the 1700s. He spends many hours delving through dark and dusty folios in library archives across Europe, focusing his attention on some of the most interesting characters in history.
With film and television works behind him which include Downton Abbey, Merchant Ivory’s ‘Howard’s End’ and the role of Hermione’s father in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ian describes himself as “an accidental biographer”. He has investigated and written the real-life stories of notable 18th-century figures such as the arbiter of men’s fashion Beau Brummell, an intriguing one-legged actor called Samuel Foote, and the first celebrity chef Antonin Carême. Even his sole ‘current-day’ biography to-date of Vivienne Westwood, which he wrote in collaboration with the celebrated fashion designer whose iconic punk designs also drew inspiration from the 1700s, came about because Dame Vivienne and her husband had read his previous books. “We met in the 18th century!” he said. He finds “the ideas of that era fascinating and I want to re-create that as best as I can.”
Now this quintessential Englishman is set to see another of his subjects brought vividly to life after two and a half centuries as the legendary Casanova, Chevalier de Seingalt, dances from the pages of his award-winning Sunday Times Biography of the Year (2008-9) on to stages around the country in a fully-fledged and brand new production by Northern Ballet. Commissioned by the company’s artistic director David Nixon OBE, Casanova will be the first full-length ballet by one of its foremost dancers, and now an award-winning choreographer, Kenneth Tindall, who invited Ian to collaborate with him in writing the scenario for the production. After opening in March in Leeds, where the touring company is based, the ballet will set off around the country arriving in Norwich from April 4 to 8. The ballet promises to unmask a man of many talents, showing that he was so much more than the legendary lover of myth and a figure now chiefly remembered for his numerous amorous escapades. In the process, it will take audiences on a breath-taking ride through the sensual decadence of masque and masquerade in Venice, the party capital of 18th-century Europe.