Tag Archives: King Lear

Playwright Spotlight: William Shakespeare

20 Apr

I have said somewhere on this blog that I was averse to Shakespeare because no matter how hard I tried, I can’t seem to understand his plays.

I had been to the Bard’s hometown in Stratford-upon-Avon, and my intimate relationship with the man was the souvenir fridge magnet and The Little Book of Shakespeare quotes. My first exposure to his work was the 2004 film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. It was my young friend Bizarro who convinced me to watch the film, although I didnt need much convincing as Pacino was a good enough reason to give it a try. The experience wasnt too bad at all, I actually really liked that version and was really moved by the events that transpired. But there was still no yearning desire to follow through.

I have had discussions with friends who loved Shakespeare’s work and it wasnt until a work colleague and friend, who’s also a huge theatre afficionado said to me late last year that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be watched more than read. I was quite keen on watching Ian McKellen in King Lear so I bit the bullet and booked the RSC’s production last year and was gobsmacked by it. The Arden adaptation which came as a gift from the same friend helped eased the pain in understanding the language. I had wanted to book the Donmar’s Othello but I was one of those who were trying to book tickets all day only to be told it has sold out.

So from watching a highly distressing and tragic Lear I moved onto another Shakespeare production, this time the light hearted Much Ado About Nothing staged at the Olivier’s National for their winter offering and boy did that feel good too. Having enjoyed myself so much I bought the play text in the National bookshop and finished reading it the same evening. Since then I have joined the RSC as associate member and I am now looking forward to the staging of Hamlet, Love’s Labours Lost when it comes to the West End at the end of the year, and the Donmar West End’s Twelfth Night. The Regents Park Open Air Theatre productions for the season includes a hefty serving of the Bard with Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and then of course you’ve got the Globe Theatre with King Lear, Timon of Athens and The Merry Wives of Windsor. There’s also A Winter’s Tale to look forward to in Spring 2009 as part of The Bridge Project and there’s also the RSC Histories currently running at the Roundhouse that got sold out by the time I wanted to book tickets.

So what’s the verdict for Shakespeare? To quote Simon Russell Beale in an interview for Much Ado About Nothing, he said, he’s just the best. I have only seen 2 productions so far but I will have to agree with him. Does the Doctor Who Season 3 Shakespeare Code episode count? I wish!

Theatre Review: King Lear

27 Dec

Synopsis: Lear (Ian McKellen), King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. When Cordelia (Romola Garai) refuses to make a public declaration of love for her father she is disinherited and married to the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent (Jonathan Hyde) is banished by Lear for daring to defend her. The two elder daughters, Goneril (Frances Barber) and Regan (Monica Dolan), and their husbands inherit the kingdom. Gloucester (William Gaunt), deceived by his bastard son Edmund (Philip Winchester), disinherits his legitimate son, Edgar (Ben Meyjes), who is forced to go into hiding to save his life. Lear, now stripped of his power, quarrels with Goneril and Regan about the conditions of his lodging in their households. In a rage he goes out into the stormy night, accompanied by his Fool (Sylvester McCoy) and by Kent, now disguised as a servant.

They encounter Edgar, disguised as a mad beggar. Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund and captured by Regan and Cornwall, who put out Gloucester’s eyes. King Lear is taken secretly to Dover, where Cordelia has landed with a French army. The blind Gloucester meets, but does not recognise Edgar, who leads him to Dover. Lear and Cordelia are reconciled but in the ensuing battle are captured by the sisters’ forces.

Goneril and Regan are both in love with Edmund, who encourages them both. Discovering this, Goneril’s husband Albany forces Edmund to defend himself against the charge of treachery. A knight appears to challenge Edmund and, after fatally wounding him, reveals himself to be Edgar. News comes that Goneril has poisoned Regan and then committed suicide. Before dying, Edmund reveals that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and Cordelia.

King Lear is the first Shakespeare play I ever saw on stage and I know it may sound lame but I just had to see it because it had Ian McKellen playing Lear and it is produced by the RSC, so how can I lose? Having had a taste of the company’s earlier performance of Chekhov’s The Seagull which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was in full anticipation to see this grand production which was also directed by Trevor Nunn.

McKellen’s Lear was a masterful portrayal of power, descent, and tragedy. Having just finished the Arden’s version of the published novel was already much too overwhelming, and seeing it brought into life by a huge and versatile talent as McKellen was a stroke of genius. Towards the end of the second act I was choking and nearly in tears with his tender and dramatic moment with Cordelia.

The other gentlemen in the ensemble, notably Hyde playing Kent, gave another brilliant performance- Meyjes as Edgar, Winchester as Edmond, Gaunt as Gloucester and McCoy as the King’s Fool were just as commanding. I must say that I was a little disappointed with Garai’s treatment of Cordelia, not that Cordelia is a role to die for, but it seems that she played it the way she did as Nina in The Seagull, not so much with Dolan who although was brilliant playing Masha, was in a totally different character as Regan.

I was totally blown away by this performance and was just pleased that I had the chance to see it. I am really looking forward to see more of RSC’s productions in 2008.

Hamlet, anyone?

King Lear: 4/5

Playing at the New London Theatre until January 12