‘King Lear’ review – Ian McKellen plays the tragic role with blistering emotion and bravado

McKellen delivers a bold and striking performance as the ill-fated king in this epic Shakespearean tragedy – ★★★★☆

McKellen gazes out into the audience after an incredible three-hour performance at the theatre where he made his debut 54 years ago. There’s a feeling that this is a standout role in the actor’s incredible career – a bittersweet, personal reflection on a phenomenal acting history.

Ian McKellen (left) and Danny Webb (right) deliver bold performances as Lear and Gloucester respectively. Photo: Johan Persson.

“I’m not the first actor who has wanted to return to this play, as if unfinished business,” he writes in the official programme. “Perhaps it’s just that the closer you get to the King’s age, the more telling it becomes – for some, more a therapy than a job.” It’s a sentiment present on the stage – a portrayal which feels incredibly personal and reminiscent.

The production, a West End transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre, is one bravely directed by Jonathan Munby. While the first half of the production is a slow establishment of the main characters, the mid-show cliffhanger and second half is where this modernised retelling really comes to life. Ben and Max Ringham’s harsh, drum-heavy score brings a sense of urgency to the story, and Lucy Cullingford and Kate Waters choreography work – as movement director and fight director respectively – maintain the tense and eccentric tones of Shakespeare’s work.

It’s a sense of elegance that also comes with the performances, too. James Corrigan’s Edmund is one of cunning villainy, brilliantly expressive to the extent that his lines are completely accessible to a modern audience. Luke Thompson (Edgar) and Danny Webb (Gloucester) work perfectly as individuals, but also as a duo, effortlessly bouncing off each other’s lines to create two broken characters worthy of the audience’s empathy.

With immersive set designs from Paul Wills – to the extent that even the fake rain smells of petrichor – King Lear feels more like a cinematic film than a stage production (one images those who saw the recent NT Live showing of the play will agree). Yet, of course, theatregoers would expect nothing less for such a legendary star of both stage and film.

King Lear is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3 November. 16 to 25 year olds can purchase £5 tickets on the day through the Chichester Theatre’s Prologue scheme.

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NaPoWriMo – A Belated Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

I forgot to say this yesterday,
But it has been 450 years
Of poetry, sonnets and plays,
So happy birthday, Shakespeare!

I have only studied Shakespeare twice,
One, Hamlet, and two, The Tempest.
But to realise he set so many foundations for the English language,
Is amazing – when you see how it has progressed!

Lines like “To be or not to be”,
Many people, it does amaze.
You have provided many with entertainment, and study opportunities,
So again, Happy Birthday!

Liam

Thoughts on Visual Changes in Books

What I mean by this is that I’ve been reading a lot of books recently with certain visual changes and words that may be questionable.

So, using some examples… I have read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which sees every other chapter being written in lower case. Then there’s Alex’s “Nadsat” slang used in A Clockwork Orange, which took a while for me to get my head around. Then, there’s Shakespeare’s work, which sees an older form of English that is different from modern English today.

Now personally, not being able to understand words on a page creates a semantic barrier (when one is unable to understand words). This could mainly be because we, as readers, have certain expectations…

We expect books to adhere to certain norms in the world of storytelling, with the main criteria being perfect spelling and grammar. Therefore, when books break into unconventional grounds, they can become unique, but it takes time for readers to adjust.

But then again, these books which challenge expectations of the reader then go on to become classics, or best sellers, or books studied at A-Level (A Clockwork Orange being one of them – I’m studying it at the moment!)

Personally, I’ve always found it hard to adjust to these types of books, but what about you? Comment below!

Liam