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Review (***) King Lear, The Globe, September ’17, Cinema Live

The Globe’s production of King Lear is available through ‘Encore’bookings, in Australia and New Zealand from 25th November, and may be available in the UK. See CinemaLive.com:

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It may also become available on Globe Player, once the current run at The Globe has completed.

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Our Bottom Line:

This is a forceful production – in its way. You will stay in your seat and not press ‘Pause’.

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Our Review (***)

 

This was the first ever live broadcast from Shakespeare’s Globe. Presumably someone thought hard about what would work best for the theatre, what in commercial terms would be the impact (and cash return) of King Lear as a digital asset. Director Nancy Meckler probably has Cornwall’s savage lines in mind: ‘Fellows, hold the chair. [As] Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot.’ And, sure enough, this is a forceful production – in its way. You will stay in your seat and not press ‘Pause’.

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From the start, it’s surprising. Lear’s palace is a vacant building lot. The pillars are sheeted over and there’s a KEEP OUT notice and a roll cage to push around. You look for hard hats, hi-vis vests, dust and demolition. What you do get is a motley crew, plangent violin, shiny combat boots and Lear in a Beanie hat. Oh, touring actors ‘at work’ then.

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The king has a vital, loose-limbed retirement in mind. You can tell that from his energetic speech and his tattoos. Anyway, he is not that old. Kevin McNally, playing Lear, is 61 and right royally possessed of his stubborn faculties. He feels cheated rather than insulted by daughters, Goneril and Regan, and he is more baffled than hurt by Cordelia’s refusal to play the flatterer, and he is all too well aware that he is responsible. There is an ironic, stroppy, self-awareness to this Lear that blunts the urgency of his prayer to not go mad but it does allow for uncommon exasperation, sarcasm and laughter.

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It’s Edgar (the good ‘un) who enters ‘like the catastrophe of the old comedy’ and Edmund (the bad ‘un) who is the Vice of the medieval morality play. It’s clear-cut: you suffer with Edgar – and you thrill at the villainy of Edmund, who really is a special bastard. Very oddly – for someone having to change into Poor Tom in amongst the audience standing in the Yard – Joshua James as Edgar has the artless, ageless appeal of William Brown in the Just William stories. Alongside him, Ralph Davis as Edmund is the plausible scheming adult. To their father, blinded and faithful Gloucester (Burt Caesar) is given the distinction of an embroidered velvet jacket and a cadence that speaks nobility. Contemplating suicide his muted declaration that ‘distribution should undo excess / And each man have enough’ would, I suppose, rebuke his sovereign for keeping his lands and wealth within the family!

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In effect the downtrodden and the dispossessed own the rights to this King Lear, which provoked the London critics. A derelict space is occupied and reclaimed by players who stage the story of a king who gave away his power to the wrong, ‘lust-dieted’, people. At its close it is the Player-King, out of his uniform jacket and reunited with his Beanie hat, who triumphantly reveals the last of the gilded pillars of the ‘true’ Globe. The outlawed Edgar regains his place and the exiled (Lady) Kent, in an absorbing performance by Saskia Reeves, is ever the advocate of reason and justice.

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What though of the tragedy? When the good prevail, where’s the loss? This is the blind spot, for me, of an otherwise confident and coherent production. Lear’s fierce madness in a grimy singlet is more like rage at ‘scurvy politicians’ whom he would kill, kill, kill – rather than existential anguish. There is grief, of course, for Cordelia (Anjana Vasan) and you can certainly believe that McNally as Lear has indeed dispatched her hangman but shuddering pity was not on the set. There is, however, lots of energetic drumming. The line that I best remember from the final scene is Kent’s: saying of the dead king, ‘He but usurp’d his life’, as if it had been plotted and calculated all along.

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A word on the Fool. I very much liked Loren O’Dair in the part. The Comic Relief red nose, the Pierrot costuming and make-up, her music on violin and accordion, and her acute timing do mess up the tidy conceptual site, which is precisely what the sad clown is there for.

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Alan Brown,
Editor,
Players-Shakespeare.com

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Interested in watching a Globe production at home on your PC or TV? Check out our Globe Player Help page

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4 Responses to "Review (***) King Lear, The Globe, September ’17, Cinema Live"

  • James
    October 9, 2017 - 1:22 pm Reply

    How about in the USA and Canada?

    • Richard Forsyth
      October 9, 2017 - 10:28 pm Reply

      There’s no news of a release in USA / Canada – yet!

  • Richard Forsyth
    October 12, 2017 - 8:19 am Reply

    Carol Wolf cmments on this review in Shakespeare Friends as follows:
    Lear is a fascinating play, especially from the point of view of a playwright. In all of Shakespeare’s plays from R&J on, he always has one character who is a chaotic. A chaotic is a character who runs contrary to the tide of the plot that is carrying everyone else along. For example, in As You Like It, everyone is in the forest enjoying the experience, while Jacques complains and carries on every time he is on stage. Thus, every time he appears, the audience perks up because they don’t know what he’s going to do. Chaotics are exciting in a play because they have no parameters. They can do anything, and are always surprising. Fools are always chaotics. Villains,too, of course. Here’s the point: after adding one chaotic to every play for years, in Lear, Shakespeare kicks off seven chaotics into motion by the end of the first act. The uncrowned king roaming the land, the two “good” daughters plotting against their father, the good servant Kent in disguise, the bastard plotting against his half brother, the good son turned into the beggar Mad Tom, and, of course, the Fool. Activating seven chaotics can’t have been an accident. It must have been a playwriting experiment. Shakespeare, as ever, proves himself the Master. Enjoy!

    • Richard Forsyth
      October 12, 2017 - 9:28 am Reply

      Doesn’t all drama depend on their being conflcit? viz Portagonist / Antaggonist?

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