Article Title:Sir Ian McKellen in Shakespeare's mighty King Lear
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:19th August 2007 - 10:34 pm
Story ID:4771
Text:Sir Ian McKellen and Sylvester McCoy Review: King Lear, by William Shakespeare Sir Ian McKellen and the Royal Shakespeare Company of Great Britain Directed by Trevor Nunn ASB Theatre, The Edge August 18 On a globe that is changing faster than its occupants or their domain can adapt, it's perhaps somewhat comforting to know that some things never change. One of the constants in a civilised world is that high art practiced by great artists has the power to heal and provide spiritual enrichment in a way nothing else can. And when the art is theatre and the practitioners are the Royal Shakespeare Company of Great Britain, the cure is akin to the remission of all ills. And to carry this analogy a bit further, when the cure is William Shakespeare's mightiest play “King Lear” starring knight and champion of New Zealand Sir Ian McKellen, it is the very highest order of remedy. Auckland is at the moment fortunate to have this magnificent actor and the RSC at its disposal. After their much-heralded performances in Australia and in Wellington, their antipodean tour will end this week and we should mourn their departure as do the Wagnerian deities who, shrivelled and old, are deprived of youth and joy upon the kidnapping of their sister Freia. If that sounds a bit florid, you were obviously not in the audience on opening night. And if you haven't a ticket already you won't get one, so I'm preaching to the converted. But I really must go on, as the meagre reward of a rave is all I have in my power to bestow upon these greatly talented people who have dropped such riches in our midst. McKellen, as the King, is perhaps the Lear Shakespeare had in mind. The words fall from his mouth as if new, and his characterisation leaves nothing to be desired. His timing, his uncannily geriatric pacing and movement, the range of his voice and above all his understanding of Lear produce a towering and formidable theatrical milestone that I, for one, have not seen equalled. The rages are frightening, the mad moments truly unhinged and his grief at the end, howling like a wounded lion as he enters carrying the body of his beloved Cordelia, came from somewhere preternaturally visceral. I've never heard such a sound ‘til now. Lear is of course the pinnacle of any classical actor's career and it has come at the right time for Ian McKellen, while he has the stamina to act it (though I heard him say in an interview it's not physically the most trying part he's undertaken.) There is no doubt in my mind that he will be remembered as one of the great conquerors of this Everest, perhaps inspired by his association with the country who produced the original. Supporting him in this great company, where even the most minor parts are taken by fine actors, are Frances Barber (Goneril), Monica Dolan (Regan) and the fabulously beautiful Romola Garai as Cordelia. Barber is a gorgon in her role, Dolan a willing and harpie-like accomplice in the degradation of their father. Garai's at-first icy approach as the good daughter is dispelled by her compassionate warmth in the last scenes, but above all her porcelain beauty is angelic. For the most part, the men of the RSC left indelible impressions of their characters in my mind, more particularly the noble veteran William Gaunt as Gloucester and Julian Harries as Albany. I shall always remember Sylvester McCoy's Fool (remember him in Dr. Who?) as uniquely balancing the despair and cynicism of the part with comedic nonsense and tomfoolery, as is proper. His spoon playing is expert, coming as it does after a gig with the London Concert Orchestra. Jonathan Hyde's loyal Kent has an unflinchingly true ring. If Philip Winchester's Edmund is not quite villainous enough, his comeliness and reptilian charm make Goneril's and Regan's capitulations all the more believable. Ben Meyjes as Edgar makes good use of the virtuosic moments and his transformation from nerd to hero is quite wonderful. Trevor Nunn is a Shakespeare encyclopaedia, having been the longest serving executive and artistic director of the RSC, and as Director of the National Theatre produced and directed many of the bard's plays. He has stamped his brand on this Lear in many ways, not least of all using a thrust stage and portraying chaos's reign by the charismatic disintegration of the gigantic set. His team of Christopher Oram, design, and Neil Austin, lighting, Steven Edis, music, Fergus O'hare, sound, and Malcolm Ranson, fight director have all done their jobs impeccably. It has been announced that Chekov's “The Seagull,” the other offering by this world-famous company, is not selling well. Shame on Auckland. It's an embarrassment, and I hope will be remedied by a last-minute raid on the box office! Larry Jenkins - 19th August 2007    
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