My 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 when 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!
The 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.
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.