Thursday, October 11, 2007


Last night we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear with Ian McKellen. There has been a lot of buzz about it in the Twin Cities. Actually, the buzz has been about Ian McKellen. Would the tickets have sold out so quickly if it hadn't been Gandalf playing Lear? Of course not.

The hype has been huge. I have tried not to let that warp my expectations for this play or the fact that I've been looking forward to this for six months.

I was not disappointed. The play was completely absorbing. It was breathtaking. I think the Guthrie consistently turns out a high quality theater experience and I do have high standards. I loved the early 20th century Russian setting. On MPR, McKellen was asked why they chose that time and place and he said they wanted to pick the most contemporary setting that would still work with the play. The costumes were gorgeous. It was done on the thrust stage, a stage that protrudes out into the audience. It is surrounded by audience on three sides. I liked the staging, but many times there was a guard or someone standing right in front of us so our view of the action was obscured. We were in the second row. But when there was no one standing there, boy did we have a great view! We saw the details of the actors' expressions. That's one reason it was so absorbing. I almost felt like I was part of it. I felt like I was so close to it I was intruding.

What can I tell you about Ian McKellen's performance? I liked it. It was good. O.k., I can do better than that. It was convincing. He was a passionate and convincing Lear. At no point was he merely going through the motions after having already done it so many times. He did the role justice. He raged and despaired and went mad. I did sometimes become mesmerized by his voice. But here's the thing: I think the part of Lear transcends Ian McKellen. I studied the play in depth a couple years ago for an upper-level Shakespeare class. I read it many times over. There was so much else I was looking for, so many things I was waiting to see how they would handle, what spin they would give this phrase or that, I really didn't just sit back and watch Gandalf as Lear.

The rest of the cast more than held their own with McKellen. He's the famous one who has been in movies, but I think several of the other actors are of his caliber. He would probably say the same himself. It's not like when he came on stage everything suddenly got better. And that would have been distracting from the play anyway. The woman who played Goneril had the face of the evil queen in Snow White. I couldn't take my eyes off her. The Earl of Kent was excellent in his part--I liked that actor a lot too as Dr. Dorn in The Seagull Tuesday night.

I'm so glad I went to both plays. According to what the actors said Tuesday night, they really like touring with two plays for several reasons. One is that Lear would have been too draining to do many times in a row. With Seagull thrown in they can keep working but in a lighter tone. They also said the doing the two plays at the same time has changed the plays. Lear has carried over into The Seagull to add weight, intensity, and drama. The Seagull has informed some of the lighter scenes in Lear. As a viewer I appreciated seeing these two very different plays that had similar themes.

I do feel a little let down now because I've been looking forward to this for so long and now it's over. When the play was in its final scene I had a growing feeling of panic. Don't be done yet! I thought. I have been completely theater-spoiled this past month. We went to Jane Eyre last month and then two weeks later, The Home Place.


athena said...

holy cow, you can't write a post like this and not have someone not comment! and what an experience! wish we had something like this where we are.

Calandria said...

thanks. :-) sometimes when people don't comment I wonder if i've said something inappropriate.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I am so jealous. I haven't been to a live production of Shakespeare in WAY too long. i'm glad it was a good one. I love Ian McLellen.