Theatre at the Movies: King Lear

King LearMy younger son and I went to see the National Theatre Live broadcast of King Lear, captured the same day in a small London theatre, the same one where Ian McKellen made his West End debut in 1964. I knew that McKellen would be playing Lear, but it was a surprise for me that Sinéad Cusack was appearing as Kent, a role written for a man. The latter worked well, I thought, and matched the modern-dress staging of the play and the casting of talented actors who were not all of one race, even amongst Lear’s daughters. I’m really enjoying the trend to more racial diversity in theatre productions.

NTLive does a good job of making you feel like you are in the actual theatre, letting you see and hear the audience moving around and chatting before the play and during the intermission. It’s a very long play (over three hours) and so the intermission is necessary — I have to admit that despite how good the production was, I was almost dozing off by the time 10 pm rolled around. Because it seems like we’re actually in a theatre, people tend to be more touchy about noise — the concession does sell popcorn and so of course people eat it. But there was a mean old man ahead of us who turned around to the woman behind him and yelled, “Jesus! Could you quiet down with the popcorn?!” He wasn’t yelling at me, but it sure got my heart pounding and the adrenaline flowing, and it was much more distracting to me than any popcorn could have been! The broadcast was quite smooth, although there was one period in the middle of the play whenfrog with popcorn Pixabay there seemed to be microphone issues, which is to be expected in a live capture.

My son is always up for any experience I might suggest and Shakespeare is no exception. Neither of us had read or seen the play before, so for me, I found that even though I got the gist of the action and dialogue, I was missing some of the details of the speeches. My son, though, is apparently much smarter than me (or at least, I may be more of a visual learner), as he said he really didn’t have any trouble closely following the Shakespearean English!

ChopThe performances were really good. I definitely forgot I was watching Gandalf, or even Ian McKellen, as he became a confused and erratic old man, making decisions on impulse. In this Actors on Actors with Kate Blanchett, she commented (around 1:35) that after not seeing McKellen for a while she watched Mr. Holmes and thought, “Oh… Ian’s really… he’s really aged… Is he all right? Maybe he’s been really ill.” A lot of it is in how he uses his voice and mannerisms to so convincingly “play old”. Watching Sinéad Cusack was interesting, too. Not having seen her in another role, I did notice a couple of her mannerisms from North and South — and I was particularly struck that when she was in disguise as a man, she put on a jacket and a knit cap quite reminiscent of Chop minus the beard! Since we know that Richard Armitage is in London, I’m sure that he won’t miss this opportunity to see two of his earlier esteemed colleagues on stage doing Shakespeare.


James Corrigan

I particularly enjoyed the performance and the looks of James Corrigan as Edmund. He did an excellent job of switching back and forth between dutiful son and scheming climber, letting the audience in on the tricks. In common with a certain other actor we know, he is a LAMDA graduate and has been a frequent Royal Shakespeare Company performer. Luke Thompson as his brother, Edgar, was also good, playing the distrusted son who becomes a mad vagrant, or at least a lost son masquerading as a mad vagrant, and he spent most of the play with very little clothing covering him good thing he pretty obviously works out!. I also really liked Kirsty Bushell as Lear’s daughter Regan, as she played the character as an over-the-top sexpot which was very entertaining to watch.

If you enjoy Shakespeare’s tragedies, I would recommend this production of King Lear, which will be shown in cinemas in a repeat broadcast on October 21 and 25 and November 24. My son and I are looking forward to catching Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as our next Shakespeare outing, which will be in cinemas as-if live on December 6.

15 thoughts on “Theatre at the Movies: King Lear

  1. So I read your The Crucible and Salome reviews from your NT experience before commenting-more for back story and comparison purposes. I have not seen King Lear period. I want to but the opportunity just has not cropped up yet but your review was dynamite. It made me immediately google NT schedule and I found a viewing on Wed near where I live. I cannot go bec it is a work day/night. Shucks there. I saw The Crucible about 2 weeks ago on Digital Theatre and just loved it. I thought it was spectacular and not just Richard but the entire production. I sat mesmerized in front of my computer screen not even getting up for a bathroom break at the “intermission.” I’m gonna view it again at Thanksgiving when I go visit my parents/mum’s bday next month. I did see Salome at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC in 2016 and thought is was lukewarm. I confess I did not know who Farber was bec I primarily see musicals or Shakespeare plays or Oscar Wilde or Moliere. I totally agree with you and I thought the actress playing her who I think hailed from Royal Academy of Arts (RADA) I think and did some time at Royal Shakespeare Theatre ala Richard. You could definitely see her training and she was fearless on stage. But the play was slow I mean turtle slow and I liked the minimalist staging and costumes but the messages Farber was trying to convey I think got lost in translation. Speaking of Farber I read an interview with her that besides Hamlet this year she is supposed to direct Oedipus to Antigone-do you think this is the collaboration with Richard? If so I wonder when it will take place since we are in October already.
    I did see Comedy of Errors last Saturday in Washington DC which I so wanted to love but sadly did not. It didn’t know what lane to stay in-vaudeville-ish vs Shakespearean in nature. I like the latter rather than the former and the director had done Camelot in June which was fantastic. I think his brain was still living there when he directed this play. There were 5 50ish age women in front of me who were having the times of their lives at the play-laughing and talking and giggling and I had hoped that was ME feeling the same way but no not even close.
    Anyway, thank you for your reviews. I always enjoy them and we seem to have similar tastes. So happy that your younger son could experience King Lear with you and I totally get when Richard said that one reason he wanted to go into theatre was to entertain the audience. Good theatre is always entertaining and enlightening!

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    • King Lear is almost a Tragedy of Errors, I think. i didn’t talk about the story much in what I wrote, but there is a lot of misunderstanding, quick judgments, deliberate misleading, and finally regret. There are definitely comic elements, but it is tragic and there are a lot of deaths. I hope you get to see it at some point.

      The Crucible was amazing. My older son saw it with me in the cinema and was really impressed. It’s good on the small screen too, of course, but can you imagine seeing that live?

      There was speculation about Oedipus to Antigone earlier, so it could be. Originally, it sounded like it was going to happen early in 2018 and I think maybe the timing didn’t seem like it would work. But there doesn’t seem to be any info available about it yet.

      Too bad Comedy of Errors wasn’t what you’d hoped. I used to love the movie of Camelot. Seems like a big jump for a director to go from Camelot to Shakespeare. Very different feeling.

      I’m glad you enjoy the reviews. I wish I could see more theatre. And it’s nice that my sons are interested. My husband won’t go to the Shakespearean tragedies, although he might go to one of the comedies.

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      • Yeah I think the director is the heir apparent now bec the head honcho is retiring. The director is a twin himself and a lot of the play revolves around mistaken identity and a sense of belonging but it was bizarre with the start being a musical number like Camelot was but Camelot’s cast were much better performers. The one actress Veanne Cox who does quite a bit of DC Shakespeare nailed the diction and facial expressions and felt right at home. When I wrote an evaluation on Sunday in their 10 minute survey e-mail(DC Shakespeare advocates Social media reviews which I do not partake in) I mentioned her and that the most laughs from the audience revolved around an octopus, toupe which fell off (improvised maybe or not) and a tap dancing police man perhaps there were some holes in the execution of the play. I saw Bette Midler in Hello Dolly in NYC in August and she blew me away, just fabulous!! I was the 5 women clapping, giggling and beaming thru the musical and I was in NYC !!!

        Yeah if Richard were to do a play in London like at the end of the year there’s no way I could go. That requires planning at least 4-5 months in advance for me esp financially. The interview with Farber which I stumbled on was interesting. Her home base is Montreal which is where her husband (maybe estranged now) and 10 year old daughter live. That would be super hard on me if I had a child and didn’t see them for 2-3 months at a stretch which Farber had stated in the interview. I found her very passionate about her craft(she originally wanted to act but a friend steered her to direct) in the interview piece and I can see why Richard would want to work with her again.

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        • Ohh! Hello Dolly with Bette Midler must have been amazing! I like her and I like that show. Whether I could go to London to see RA is doubtful, given that I’d have to convince my hubby that that was a reasonable expense in the grand scheme of our finances. And this year would be pretty much impossible for me work-wise. Farber is very passionate and talented, but she has a particular style. I’m sure that actors love to work with her.

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          • Yeah one of my biggest “oh nos” is that He is there in London now and doing something with Farber and the announcement will come in a few weeks that limited run Antigone to Oedipus whatever West End theatre it is (I’ve never been to a London theatre show) and I’ll be like sh**t and it would be like another 2-3 years before something else cropped up. I keep hoping it is something in NYC (I know it isn’t DC bec they have announced next year seasons list already-Comedy of Errors was first up.) which would be easy for me. Something in my gut is saying something’s coming soon. I’ve written BS3 off that is not his show anymore bec he’s not in Budapest full time, somebody there would have spotted him or IG him or Tweeted about him. So what is going on??I mean did this happen last year? No right bec there are pics of him on IG even in August with the gals.
            Oh an aside for you, I’ve been back reading Zee’s blog and I discovered Coco Peru in one post from 2015. So funny. I’m gonna go to You Tube tonight and look for more stuff from her. She is hysterical. No filter but says things that I would be thinking but wouldn’t have the balls to say out loud, yeah know?

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            • Maybe they’ll do a NTLive broadcast, which would be something. NY would be a major trip from here, too. And yeah, maybe they’ve killed off our friend Daniel M… RA does have a habit of getting killed off. I haven’t heard of Coco Peru. I’ll have to check her out.


              • Yeah Sue I’m just thinking out loud. I really hope Daniel is not killed off. I don’t know when the Q&A is supposed to happen either. Maybe at the end of October or beginning of November?
                I got Coco from Zee’s old blog posts which I’m reading now just to catch up. She is hysterical and there is quite a bit on You Tube. She does her schtick from Southern California but she says comments that I would be thinking but wouldn’t have the nerve to say out loud unless I was with my sister or a close friend. Her facial expressions are just fantastic bec she has no filter. She may be a he though bec the profile says Drag Queen. The hair and make-up look great though much better than mine that’s for sure!!

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        • afaik, the last time Farber has referred to O to A was late in 2017, but at that point she said her next project was the Hamlet that’s on stage in Dublin right now. O to A was supposed to be the second play in Elliott / Harper’s inaugural season, running in spring 2018, but didn’ t materialize (then Armitage said in Feb in Paris he’d be on stage soon and whatever that was didn’t materialize either, probably due to his mother’s situation). In Newcastle he said he and Farber were looking to do a film of The Crucible, but didn’t give details. He didn’t mention O to A at that point. (I’m bemused about this because after the rumors in 2017, I put Oedipus Rex on my syllabus and am about to teach it for the second time next week, lol.)

          I don’t have any more information than anyone else, but anything that was going to start before the end of 2018 would have to be announced very soon. A play that would open in previews in mid-November would have to be in rehearsal in the next two weeks. That’s probably unlikely in London. And O to A isn’t really fare for the Christmas theater season. I think there would have been rumors by now and there haven’t been any at all. My suspicion is less that there will be a surprise announcement that he’s headlining, and more that a production in one of the prestige venues will announce its cast, i.e., like Donmar, where most of their tickets are sold in advance on the basis of the play they are staging and cast announcements always come late. He will have a major role, but not be the headliner, but all the advance tickets will be gone and the only options will be either something like their “klaxon tickets” system or day tickets (which makes a trip that far to be impractical).

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          • Thank you for clarifying. I read it late at night on an “insomnia night” so maybe it was the interview from 2017 and my brain registered as more recently like in Feb of this year. Yeah do you think he’s just in this limbo state now with the Audio work just a means of getting up in the morning and having something to occupy his time? He seemed so busy even earlier this year with The Lodge and My Zoe but now BS3 seems a crock to me like the role is minimal. I know that’s a whole different conversation. I mean if I were him and I was a star in a series and then my role was barely there(or appears that way) for the 3rd season I would not be happy. He seemed pretty gung ho about the spy series and it delving into political issues of the day in interviews and it would have been steady employment at least another season. He hasn’t started Castlevania S3 yet right?

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  2. I think a quarter of the fandom went to this, lol! I totally agree re: McKellen — he is “playing old” (or at least older than he is) and it is so convincing. Disagree about Corrigan, though — way over the top for me and most disappointing performance, actually (albeit not bad, just disappointing). But I also felt that way somewhat about the performance of Regan. It might have been the mood I was in, or I just don’t appreciate the bawdy level of Shakespeare that much, but the comedy elements of this performance didn’t work for me as well as the serious ones (even though I know they were an important piece for the Shakespearean audience).

    One thing that consistently impresses me about British Shakespeare that is often lacking in American Shakespeare is the immersion of the actors in the actual speech of Elizabethans. I thought it was particularly good in this broadcast — maybe it’s a more exaggerate level of gesture or facial expression, but instead of thinking “I wonder what they just said” I think “what a beautiful way of expressing that” when I hear their words.

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    • That’s so interesting that you had different impressions of the actors! Corrigan was the one that really struck me the most. I didn’t find him over the top, but just with the right tone and switching easily between the good son and the plotting one. I was watching thinking, “This guy is going to go places.” With Regan, I felt at first that she was over the top and annoying, but it grew on me and by the end I was really enjoying what she did with the character. I think that you’re right that it depends on the mood we’re in when we go in. I was really tired and maybe the more obvious and less subtle elements appealed to me more on the day. My son, being a teenage male, laughed a lot at the bawdy humour.

      I agree with you about the speech. It comes across so naturally, as if they are just speaking their every day language. I actually found that was the case, too, in the Canadian production of Macbeth I saw this summer. It’s so much more flowing and as you say, beautiful, when it seems natural.

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  3. That is an excellent point about British Shakespeare vs American Shakespeare. I think that the British classically trained actors seem to “get” the text of Shakespeare better and are able to convey the words better than the American Shakespeare actors although in general I realize not in every case. ieKevin Kline in my opinion is a wonderful actor who can convey Shakespeare’s words and subtleties quite well.

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