King Lear

Back some 30 years when I still went to school, all the old dramas caused a lot of pain to us all. Be it Goethe, Schiller or Lessing – noone seemed to want to read those stories. But it may well be, that we disliked reading them, because we had to read them. Or because their old language sounded strange to us. Maybe it would have been easier to see MacBeth on stage instead of reading words, nobody used anymore.

But the times have change and I developed a little passion for those old stories. And when I learned of a live broadcast of ‘King Lear’ in cinema (and who’s playing the king), I had no choice but to go and see it.


The story in short

Just for those, who don’t know the story: Old Lear, king of Brittain, is about to retire and to share his land between his daughters. But said daughters have to explain, how much they love their father, and while the two older sisters do so in flowery words, the younger one denies that duty. So the kingdom is divided by two instead three.

The daughters inherit their part of the kingdom at the condition, that the Lear and his one hundred knights lodge in his older daughter’s houses. The daughters dislike the thought, one throws her father out of her house, the other doesn’t even let him in.

So schemes are made, a bastard tries to get rid of his legimitate brother, the youngest daughter lands with a french army, murder, treachery, attempted regicide and in the end nearly everebody dies – the king as well as his daughters and the villains.

Happy endings don’t seem to be Shakespeares way to end  a story. Well, at least not always. But somehow that’s the point in his tragedies. Somehow this is, what makes those stories something special, what makes them diffenrent to what Hollywood gives us.


The stage

It’s amazing, what can be done with limited means. A theatre’s stage is limited by nature. You can’t let thousands of knights ride across the range in a theatre. You have to tell the whole tale in the small room of the theatre and that production did it brilliantly.

The stage has basicly been a circle. Every few minutes new props were brought an turned the circle from a throne room into a noblemans house, a shag, a cliff near dover, an army hospital, a battlefield… Actors came onto stage and left through doors aside or in the back or via a walkway, that led through the auditorium – be it the royal procession an the beginning, be it a servant sent away to deliver a letter.

Said short: With minimal (not to say with minimalistic) efforts a believable world was created.


The costumes

No great acting, no well build stage are of any use, if the actors are wearing only blankets (except maybe in some old Roman story). And that’s the problem with many modern theatre productions.

In this production of  ‘King Lear’ the costumes are an interesting mixture of 19th century suits, worn by the noble and soldiers clad in modern uniforms. One could well discuss that matter but it worked out well in this case. Actually Shakespeare seemed to have written a timeless story, that had been played timeless.


The acting

One of the main reasons to watch this production of ‘King Lear’ had been the main actor: Sir Ian McKellen.

Yes, it is the same Ian McKellen, we all know as Gandalf and Magneto (and he has been the better, the more intense Magneto – in my opinion).

You can read Lear as an old king, who just looses his mind through the injustice of his daughters. You can also read the tragedy as the story of an 80 year old man (‘four score years’), who is fighting dementia. And that man is shown brilliantly by Ian McKellen as he did in the 2015 ‘Mr. Holmes’.

Maybe McKellen’s Lear is that believable, because the actor is nearly the same age as the character portrait by him. Whenever I saw Lear’s face (one great advantage of seeing such a play in cinema), I saw a desperate man, who realizes, that his mind isn’t working as it’s used to do anymore. I saw an old man, but that old man has not been McKellen. He himself was an actor in the high of his career.

Even though a single man cannot carry the weight of a whole play. Actually the whole cast did a marvelous job. The whole cast acted in a way, the I would not dare to talk of main and side actors

Said in short: I saw an impressive play until the final scene.

acting:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
stage:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
costumes:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Average:4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

But the most impressive thing I saw after the play, after the audience applauded the cast. The actors left the stage but Sir Ian hesitated. He stopped, turned around, looked at the audience and smiled. He smiled a smile of pure gladness, not only his mouth but also his eyes, a smile, that seemed to be his thank and his own applause to the audiance.


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