Friday, February 04, 2011

Theatre Review: King Lear - Donmar Warehouse, Thursday 3 February 2011 (NT Live! Broadcast to Nottingham Broadway Cinema)

This was - I think - our third live theatre broadcast, but the first attempted from the Donmar Warehouse, that delightfully intimate London theatre space.

The current production of King Lear has been considerably acclaimed - then again, Lear very often is - and it was a real treat to be able to see this live broadcast as getting tickets to see this would have been nigh impossible.

Jacobi as the aged king is, probably unsurprising, utterly mesmerising. But there is scarcely a moment when you feel anyone is working at less than full quality. Paul Jesson as the Earl of Gloucester gave a wonderfully nuanced performance and both Alec Newman as the bastard Edmund and Gwilym Lee as the noble Edgar/Poor Tom were brilliant portrayals of the sons. You could tell Gina McKee was just loving playing the vile Goneril ("at last, a bitch!" she too often gets pegged in damaged but attempting to be saintly roles) and Justine Mitchell's Regan was truly horrific in her delighted violence towards Gloucester.

Michael Hadley is a fine and fiercely loyal Earl of Kent and Ron Cook is suitably revealing and entertaining as the Fool (a brief period of light in the darkness of this bleak play).

Any faults the production suffers are not its fault, but rather the plays own fault. Cordelia is so clearly a loving daughter - just not in the way her father unreasonably expects her to be - and is so saintly in her response to the situation that it is hard to feel more than pity for her plight. Pippa Bennett-Warner is a charming and responsive daughter but she is hampered by not being the core focus of Shakespeare's play. Moreover, it is always hard to read the extent to which Lear's madness is induced by the loss of his truest and much-loved daughter or is prefigured in the heartlessly cruel way he tests his daughters/subjects from the start.

I was wary of the almost blank canvas setting of the Donmar version - white-ish boards envelop the stage and the balconies. But with the sound effects it was remarkably effective and emotionally allowed space for the actors to act.

Only one aspect marred the evening: part way through the second half just as Lear emerges with his crown of grasses, the signal suddenly cut out to despairing cries from the Broadway cinema audience (and no doubt elsewhere too!). This initially led to sound but a jarred/pixilated image before suddenly we heard an announcement to the theatre audience (not us elsewhere) that "the satellite signal had gone down" so they would be restarting that Act/scene again. Cue groans from the theatre (and no doubt from the actors too!). It was a LONG 10 minutes or so, but once resumed all was well. Poor Michael Grandage must have been having kittens --- in the interview at the start with Emma Freud he'd said they were all nervous enough thanks.

All in all, a fabulous if exhausting night. It was a late finish and the play is gruelling enough without that. But I felt honoured to have been able to see such a magnificent production of this iconic play.

Did I say this was my first Lear?

1 comment:

David Duff said...

Well bless my soul, as I live and breath, Lisa Rullsenberg, still ruling, I see!

I just came across your name on another blog, 'Cloud in Trousers' although, unusually, it seemed to be your partner who did all the 'talking' so I followed a link over to here - you'll be pleaed to know, er, you will, won't you?

I'm not so sure that Cordelia is quite as sweet and wholesome as you believe. Her repudiation of her old father and her immediate aquiescence to France (or Burgundy, if he hadn't been so greedy - either one would seem to have been acceptable to her) indicates to me a rather more problematic personality.

Also, I did not like the way the soliloquies, particularly Edmund's, were directed straight to the audience. In my opinion (and it is a matter of opinion there being no rule book) an audience should, so to speak, overhear these spoken inner thoughts. Even so it was a cracking production, even with the break in transmission - 'Donmar, we have a problem' - technology - heh!