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04 February 2011 @ 12:34 am
King Lear (National Theatre Live Review)  
Come this May, I'll be able to see the Donmar's production of King Lear starring Sir Derek Jacobi live. But in the mean time, I got an early preview thanks to the National Theatre's broadcasting program.


King Lear is a notoriously difficult role to perform. Many a great actor has fallen short of encompassing the various layers that make up this foolish, vulnerable, caustic king. Lear can be hateful, spiteful, irritating, and a bore. And he can also elicit sympathy and tears for his folly and ultimately tragic end.

I've seen a good handful of performances of Lear both on stage and on screen. And I can objectively say that Jacobi's performance ranks as one of the best, if not the best that I've so far watched. That's not to say that his performance was perfect. There were many moments when I felt his interpretation of the character fell deeply short of what I know he's capable of having seen him other Shakespeare productions. But by god I teared up several times. Particularly during his final confrontation with Goneril and Regan, my heart just broke. Not because I actually felt Lear was correct but I could so readily feel the anger and fear coursing through Lear as he was realizing the magnitude of his own ineffectual existence and the utter rejection of his children. Lear's rant that dissolved into anguished screams in his impotent rage was difficult to watch in that the anguish was so palpable. And this wasn't even live on stage for me!

This was also the first time I felt I truly saw a multi-layered interpretation of Goneril and Regan. Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell were both excellent as the two sisters who were bonded together due to Lear's favoritism of Cordelia and yet both were incapable of truly loving the other because they were so too starved for affection to have any to give. Their dynamic as conspirators against Lear and their rivalry over Edmund was fascinating to watch. I particularly loved McKee's Goneril who was so cruel and yet could convey the hints of cruelness that was no doubt put upon her by Lear as a child.

My only true complaint was Pippa Bennett-Warner's Cordelia. In general, I never found Cordelia too interesting even when I read the play, despite my thinking she was hideously wronged by Lear. However, this was the first performance where I found Cordelia to be obnoxiously condescending and holier than thou. It was actually to such a degree that I wondered if this was a conscious choice by the actor and director.

The rest of the cast were all uniformly good. I was a little turned off by the manic nature of Alec Newman's Edmund as I always saw that character as more coldly calculating than overwrought the way Newman played it. But Cornwall, Albany, Gloucester, and particularly Kent and the Fool were all excellent, making the entire production overall a huge success in my mind.

On a related note, I have an early answer for aelfgyfu_mead regarding what hair color Benedict Cumberbatch will be sporting for Frankenstein. If the promotional posters they showed on screen are anything to go by, it looks like he'll have his natural ginger-brown hair as Frankenstein and then bald with patches of dark hair as the Creature. The National Theatre is actually broadcasting two separate performance dates for this one, allowing audiences to see Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller play both roles. I have tickets for one screening so I'm going to try and get tickets for the other as well. Just to truly confirm the hair. Hee.
 
 
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on February 4th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
It's not usually that actors trade off roles, but in theater it seems just about anything goes. There have been a few interviews with the director and cast about why they decided to allow Cumberbatch and Miller to trade of every night and the main answer seems to be to keep it interesting for the actors.

Those Korean promos are hilarious! They're like the exact opposite of Chinese translations of Western film titles that are just completely descriptive. So Sherlock would be "Genius Man Who Solves Crimes With Doctor Friend."
aelfgyfu_mead: Watson plotaelfgyfu_mead on February 4th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, I imagine trading off roles every other night would keep the actors from getting bored!

I'm still grinning like a maniac from those promos. I'm not even that much of a slasher; I prefer John & Sherlock friendship, and I'm quietly rooting for John and Sarah to stay together. But those promos are adorable.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on February 4th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
I'd imagine it might be difficult to try and be original in a role if you see someone play it the night before. But I'm so curious to see both performances now.

I'm also quietly rooting for John and Sarah. As much as I thought Sarah insane on agreeing to a second date after their first!
aelfgyfu_meadaelfgyfu_mead on February 4th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
Brilliant Husband tells me that in Mozart's Don Giovanni, it's not uncommon for the singers doing Don G. and Leporello to trade off. Don G. is a baritone, Leporello a bass-baritone, and they impersonate each other during the opera. He says if you have two good bass-baritones, it's great; it's just a lot of music for the two singers to learn!

I eagerly await your report on the play and both leads!

Yes, I think Sarah must be a little cracked—but then, obviously so is John, so they're suited for each other!
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on February 4th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of Giovanni and Leporello switching roles during a production. But yes, usually one singer can do both roles at some point in their career. Bryn Terfel's done all three of the baritone roles in that opera!

Sarah will need to be a bit cracked if she's going to stick with John for the long run. Mainly because it means she's also going to have to stick to Sherlock for the long run as well.