For many actors the chance to play the lead role in any play by Shakespeare is often a dream come true.

Not only did Richard Coyle get this opportunity he was told that it would be for two plays being abridged and performed as one for the first time.

Player Kings - based around Henry IV Part I and II - opens in Manchester tonight with Richard taking on the role of the beleaguered monarch.

The Bolton News: Ian McKellen as Falstaff in Player Kings (Picture:  Manuel Harlan)

But if that wasn’t reason enough to add the role to his already impressive CV, Richard had another incentive to commit to Player Kings - the opportunity to share a stage with Sir Ian McKellen who plays Falstaff.

“I had done Shakespeare on stage once before,” said Richard, “when I played MacDuff in a production of Macbeth in New York directed by Kenneth Brannagh and I’d always said I’d love to do more.

“Shakespeare was one of the reasons I went to drama school in the first place and I always wanted to perform his work - it’s just taken me a little longer than I expected.”

Richard got his first big break on TV when he appeared in the series Coupling and he’s gone on to enjoy much success both on the small screen - he was recently Father Blackwood in the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and in film. His most recent movie role was as Aberforth Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.

On stage he has had a huge amount of success including leading roles in Ink and To Kill A Mockingbird, both in London’s West End.

Player Kings has been abridged and directed by Robert Icke.

The Bolton News: Richard Coyle as Henry IV in Player Kings (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

“The combination of it being such a big role; of having such an exciting director as Rob and getting the chance to work with Sir Ian McKellen would have been pretty hard to say no to,” said Richard.

“If I had thought it was really not for me I would have said no but I really did want to do it; it is too exciting a project not to be involved in.”

In taking on Henry IV Richard has a major challenge.

“It’s a big role that’s for sure and with that comes a lot of responsibility,” he said. “But there are actually three very big roles in this production - Henry, Falstaff and Prince Hal (played by Ted Lasso star Toheeb Jimo).

“You don’t normally see the two plays together and this abridged version is a very interesting project.”

When it was first announced Player Kings was coming to Manchester Opera House, Shakespeare lovers were delighted.

But Richard is hoping that those who have not seen a Shakespeare work on stage before or claim not to enjoy Shakespeare will give this production a try.

“I don’t know really how you cannot love Shakespeare actually,” he said. “It’s extraordinary and so adaptable, endlessly relevant and timeless. The stories Shakespeare is telling are as equally relevant right now as when he wrote them. It is an extraordinary achievement.

“Maybe if people have seen a bad production of Shakespeare that can be offputting. But when you see a good production it is incredibly enlightening, it’s eye-opening.

“You just need to see one great production and you suddenly get it. You’ll never regard Shakespeare in the same way again and I’m really hoping that our production will have that effect on audiences.

“But as with any play or film you do have to do a bit of work to follow a story and invest in the characters. It’s the same with Shakespeare. You wouldn’t want it any other way though for an audience because the pay-off is tremendous.”

Given the quality of the cast, there’s every chance that this will be a production talked about long after its short run has ended - it’s in Manchester until March 23 before heading to the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End for an extended run from the beginning of April.

The Bolton News: Sir Ian McKellen to star Player Kings coming to Manchester next year

Richard has had a unique opportunity during rehearsals to observe one of the greatest actors of his generation close up and Richard has discovered that although he may be 84, Sir Ian McKellen remains and enthusiastic and energised by Shakespeare as he has ever been.

“He’s just an extraordinary figure,” said Richard. “He is one of our great theatre knights. But he’s also a real company actor, very generous. That’s always been my experience with well-established performers, how down to earth they are.

“I have so much respect for Ian and the time he has put in and the work he has done on stage and how he has really learned his craft.

“Decades of hard work have gone into it. I suspect one of the reasons success came fairly late on screen was that he spent so long working through Shakespeare and becoming the actor that he is.

“It’s a privilege to watch him and learn from him. He just has this magnificent ability to know how it works.”

Richard has been particularly struck by the way Sir Ian has prepared for his role.

“In rehearsal we’d be struggling through our lines leaving what we were actually going to do with them til later but he knows the ideas he wants to put across from the start. He’s coming at it from another way which displays his deep understanding of the text and a complete understanding of what is required.”

Player Kings, Manchester Opera House until Saturday, March 23. Details from