Upper sixth English pupils review a National Theatre Live screening of King Lear at the Duke of York’s Theatre, October 2018.
This quick-paced performance of King Lear truly brought to life the play we have been studying over the last term. McKellen’s gripping portrayal of Lear really did justice to Shakespeare’s ingenious script, with the small auditorium, seating only 500, enabling his facial expressions to be captured. His years of experience were easily made evident through his captivating depiction of a man struggling with dementia and spiralling into insanity. For a character who may be too stubborn for his own good, McKellen was magically able to evoke feelings of sympathy within viewers, conveying Lear to be a tormented soul victimised by his daughters, Goneril and Regan. Kirsty Bushell’s Regan was another notable performance, providing a new interpretation of the character which emphasized her ridiculously malicious and sadistic nature. As Gloucester is tied to a chair and brutally blinded, a sexually perverse Regan flicks on the radio and dances with glee. Bushell’s eccentric portrayal of Regan and McKellen’s outstanding performance alongside the rest of the impeccable cast, for me, truly honoured Shakespeare’s original play. (Lexi Ghazi)
Ian McKellen’s witty but emotive portrayal of King Lear enchanted the audience in its captivating modern take on the Shakespearean play. The play depicts a tale of a great kingdom amidst a crisis of a divided country, a family at odds, and betrayals of the gravest kinds. McKellen’s use of close proxemics in staging allowed the details of the performance to be appreciated by the audience, a fine example of this being in the final scene where Lear asks, ‘Pray you, undo this button’ and the audience can visibly see the button.
The role of Kent was portrayed by Sinéad Cusack who, as a woman, evoked a maternal care for both Lear and Cordelia with equal measures of grit, unwavering loyalty and great tenderness. Lloyd Hutchinson’s Fool demonstrated childlike devotion to Lear; the audience feels great admiration for the care he shows for the old man as he attempts to guide him through a literal and metaphorical storm. (Georgie Viragh)
Ian McKellen, having played Edgar, Kent and Lear previously, was able to bring deep theatrical experience to the production, taking full advantage of the intimacy of the space to provide the audience with a deeply personal experience of the torment that befalls Lear.
The flower-clad king at the end of the production provides a stark contrast to the powerful, buttoned up, punctilious, military Lear with his own enormous portrait looming over the stage and all on it at his partial abdication. Danny Webb’s portrayal of Gloucester was a masterclass in the mix between the foolish, offhand and the heart wrenching. In his conversation with Gloucester, Lear is clad from head to toe in flowers and plants after having been cast out by his family. He has turned to nature, a recurring theme in the play. Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Cordelia was a strong character whose appearance at the end as a military leader clad in uniform contrasted heavily with the pure, white dress from the start. Claire Price’s Goneril was self-contained in style and demeanour whereas Kirsty Bushel’s Regan was skittish and her arousal at the prospect of violence set a rift between her and the audience. Lloyd Hutchinson’s wonderful portrayal as the Fool showed the severity and truth in many of his lines “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hast been wise.” But the comical aspect was not lost with his use of a ukulele and various impressions. The role of Kent was played by Sinead Cusack; in this gender switch the ‘Countess of Kent’ was wonderfully portrayed with a motherly nature towards Cordelia but without losing the steadfast devotion for Lear. (Tetta Sanders)
Ian McKellen presented King Lear in a generously sympathetic light, exacerbated by the excessively demented state his daughter Regan was portrayed as being in. Kirsty Bushell played Regan as more psychotic and unsettling than she comes across when reading the play. I thought this heightened the tension of relationships which at times isn't explicit in the text. My singular issue with the production was the unnatural and ill-fitting attempt to present it as set in modern times. The action-filled scene-changes combined with music more fitting in a modern spy movie didn’t add to the atmosphere of multifaceted conflict and shifting audience sympathies. The solid bond and affection between Gloucester (Danny Webb) and Lear helps shed light on the unwavering loyalty and love Lear receives from Kent, Gloucester and Cordelia which at times when reading the text is hard to fathom as he appears to be a questionable monarch with a weak grasp on reality. (Yas Ellis)
The production of King Lear was an exemplary show which changed my perceptions of the play, as the presentation of the different characters and their relationships with one another were easier to understand having watched it. I particularly enjoyed the role of Ian McKellen as King Lear, which surprisingly was quite a comedic and humorous act, with the most entertaining moment coming when we had to see him survive in a hovel for a period of time. The violent deaths and acts of betrayal performed by the characters throughout the play were captivating and the family feud between the three sisters and Lear creates a brilliant story line. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening watching a fabulous production starring many talented actors. (Ivan Barker)
Ian McKellen’s compelling performance of King Lear was nothing short of excellent. Throughout the play we were constantly second guessing our emotions towards the cruel yet vulnerable King and with the use of a small stage we felt Lear’s mental decline even more poignantly. Whilst McKellen’s captivating performance as the mad King brought a clear sense of his own lifetime experience to the role, I cannot say the same for Kirsty Bushell’s performance of Regan. Her childish yet sultry take on the character was, for me, an inaccurate portrayal of the character’s true sense of grit. Yes, we are meant to dislike and be repulsed by the character; however, I was too distracted by her childish mannerisms to truly enjoy her performance. Nonetheless, overall I found the play extremely captivating and useful in enhancing my understanding of the A-level text. (Georgie Kelly)
After viewing the live performance of King Lear, I believe I’m now a devout fan of Shakespeare. Watching each character being brought to life, in the director’s own interpretation, definitely created a unique experience for us all. The character of Regan was the hardest to stomach; her portrayal was far too perverse for the play, along with her childlike manner which made it uncomfortable for the viewer. Despite this I found the performance hard to fault. Not only did I find it critical to our general work surrounding the play, but I felt the play was portrayed in a riveting manner that we all thoroughly enjoyed. I’m very glad I went. (Rosie McCabe)