Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


There was good sport in its making
June 5, 2009 2:25 AM   Subscribe

The Royal Shakespeare Company presents King Lear, starring Ian McKellen, directed by Trevor Nunn, adapted for broadcast and available in its entirety online.

Noteworthy aspects of this adaptation include a novel end for the Fool (played by Doctor Who #7 Sylvester McCoy), an ironic fate for Edmund, and, omitted from the broadcast version, nudity (SFW)

Interview with McKellen on playing the "Everest" of Shakespeare.
posted by Ndwright (36 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw this in Stratford and it was great. Greer is quite wrong about the audience in her silly review (linked from 'nudity'). Not sure how this production will come across in a recording, but it was riveting on the day. The event just before the interval shocked the whole theatre - again, I'm not sure if it will be so upsetting viewed on a screen.
posted by communicator at 2:37 AM on June 5, 2009


The production I saw in Brooklyn was great, though I was disappointed in McCoy, who I thought was so busy with physical antics that he didn't bother to make his lines clearly audible. McKellen made me cry, though.
posted by rikschell at 2:50 AM on June 5, 2009


I watched some selected scenes and this is, indeed, an outstanding looking production of Lear. I will enjoy watching the whole thing later. Very nice find.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:21 AM on June 5, 2009


Can't say anything about this one, but Lear always gets buggered up. Best test scene is Gloucester's fake suicide, if you laugh then the production's failed.

(From the video it looks like they pulled of that scene at very least.)
posted by litleozy at 3:52 AM on June 5, 2009


I actually disagree with the review, I only linked it because it was the one I found most fixated on the nudity. Here's another, more even-handed Guardian review. The New York Times' take is here, but overly fixates on McKellen and ignores most of the rest of the production.
posted by Ndwright at 3:57 AM on June 5, 2009


I saw the whole thing on TV. There's no nudity. (Who cares anyway.) It is an utterly riveting Lear -- high-definition in every sense of the word. Each scene is perfectly understood and emotionally sculpted down to the last detail. Every performance is perfectly understood and utterly convincing. Watch this. I'm not sure why they make us watch the hanging of the Jester, but outside of that it's a video triumph.
posted by Faze at 4:25 AM on June 5, 2009


I saw this on TV late when night when flipping through the channels.
Very well done.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 4:28 AM on June 5, 2009


You might be surprised to learn the Sir Ian is not actually a king, he merely pretended to be one while on stage.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 4:34 AM on June 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


It's a blatant rip-off of Kurosawa's Ran! When will they stop these appalling re-makes?
posted by Abiezer at 4:37 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow, that "nudity" review is unbelievably snotty.
posted by mek at 5:27 AM on June 5, 2009


Abiezer, I read that as "Kurosawa's Rent" which would have been AWESOME.
posted by PlusDistance at 5:33 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


It is a mighty snotty review, but gets at a lot of what I disliked about the production. It was fairly disappointing, I thought.

"And my poor fool hanged" ("REMEMBER? Earlier in the play? When the dude was hanged? REMEMBER? YOU SAW IT.")
posted by Greg Nog at 5:33 AM on June 5, 2009


I (accidentally) saw a Russian production of King Lear at probably around the same time as Greer's article which had loads of nudity, but not from Lear. It cheered my girlfriend up no end
posted by criticalbill at 6:03 AM on June 5, 2009


I'm completely incapable of getting through the last scene of Lear without crying. It's just about the only thing that reliably brings me to tears every time.

McKellen's not bad in the role, but he's not as brilliantly suited to it as I'd hoped. I agree with the review that he's a bit too stagey--it feels very similar in some ways to his performance thirty years ago in Trevor Nunn's Macbeth for the RSC. Nunn seems to me like he doesn't entirely trust his audience to understand what's going on, which is really deadly when you're doing Shakespeare. Generally, if the actors understand what they're saying (which is all too often not the case) the audience will get it too; at least all the important stuff.
posted by EarBucket at 6:24 AM on June 5, 2009


My high school did a production of King Lear when I was a senior. We had a drama club that was about 75% female, but our drama teacher had a knack for choosing plays like the Outsiders that only had a handful of female parts. Casting would always go like this: first, the two or three female parts would get cast, then the male members of the club would get their pick of the male parts, and finally, the remaining women would get cast as minor male characters. Inevitably, there would be terrible male actors with really big parts, and female actors who were pretty good, but only had a line or two.

By the time the last play of our senior year rolled around we finally convinced the teacher that gender-based casting was not the way to go and instead, for the first time, parts were handed out according to ability. I scored the part of Cordelia, and my best girlfriend, clearly the best actor in the school, got the part of King Lear. She could banish people like no one else.

To make her look more masculine we put her in a big pair of boots so she could stomp around and glued a beard to her face. When the day of our big performance came we didn't have enough time to let the facial hair glue set and it started to slide off in the middle of the first act. She stroked her beard when other characters talked in an attempt to keep it in place, but by the time King Lear was supposed to throw Cordelia out of the kingdom it was clear that it wasn't going to stay put. So with the lines

"By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be;"

she ripped off her beard and threw it into the audience. We never found the it again, but no one in the audience reacted to the barrage of facial hair.

I'm going to enjoy watching the play linked above, but to me, King Lear will always be a petite blonde named Melanie.
posted by Alison at 6:37 AM on June 5, 2009 [16 favorites]


McKellen's not bad in the role, but he's not as brilliantly suited to it as I'd hoped. I agree with the review that he's a bit too stagey--

I yearned not to feel the same way when I saw it at BAM, EarBucket.
But I kept catching whiffs of ham.

(I also felt ashamed how much I enjoyed Greer's poisonous review.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2009


You have to admit, though that Lear is hard to pull off at best. You need a commanding presence...that doesn't, theoretically, have to be a big-name actor. But if someone is old enough and good enough to play a good Lear, you'd have to question why they're NOT a big-name actor by now. So the field is pretty limited. It's very easy to do a bad Lear. Even if you've got a great actor as Lear, you then need a cast that can play at the same level and not drag down the production.

Then there is the "staginess" aspect. The play verges on melodrama quite a bit, and people draw the line of "too stagey" in different places (there's also a big difference in stage and screen, here). I thought McKellen was great, in that he didn't blow me away at first. He held a lot in reserve, unleashing his character slowly and saving the big emotional punching for the end. Not all the acting lived up to that standard, though.

Anyway, I doubt I'll ever see Lear live again. I wouldn't trust it to amateurs or B-listers. I'm happy to have seen one great Lear on stage. There aren't so many opportunities.
posted by rikschell at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2009


Lear's also tough because it's an old man's part, but it's incredibly physically demanding. So there's a very narrow window where an actor is old enough to credibly play him, but still in good enough shape to pull it off.

I think part of the problem, for me, with McKellen's performance is that it's a stage performance put on film. The gestures and mannerisms that feel a little phony with a camera right there in his face would be perfectly fine on the stage from fifty feet away. I do think Greer's right that the RSC can get kind of hammy sometimes.
posted by EarBucket at 8:11 AM on June 5, 2009


Greer is quite wrong about the audience in her silly review

Germaine Greer lost her edge when she complained that Arrested Development was "horrible" and "a whole bunch of one liners."
posted by zoomorphic at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Despite the fact that I'm very excited about this, I saw the production and didn't like McKellen (who I generally think is a great actor). There's something very logical and calculating about him, which is why he's so great at playing intellectuals. I didn't like the production (and film) he did of "Richard III," but I liked him in it. Richard is a cold fish -- and he's very smart. "Lear," of course, shoots straight from the gut. It's hard for me to swallow McKellen as a knee-jerk kind of guy. And his madness doesn't seem to be deep madness.

Compare him with Olivier and Ian Holm.

When oh when is someone going to offer the part to Ian McShane?
posted by grumblebee at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was way more impressed by Patrick Stewart as MacBeth when I saw that recently, as part of my Ongoing Project To See Every X-Men Character Do A Shakespeare.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


When oh when is someone going to offer the part to Ian McShane?

Holy crap, that's a good idea.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2009


By the way, I haven't watched the online version, but I don't buy the "it doesn't work because it's a film of a stage play." There are ways to make that work. The best example I've ever seen is the televised version of the RSC's "Nicholas Nicholby" (if you haven't see it, do yourself a favor and rent it).

In my mind, it works because it doesn't try to pretend it's not a filmed stage play. It's like having really good seats at the theatre. Of course, if you have certain unmovable expectations of what should and should not be on TV, then I guess you won't like it.

To me, what's much less successful is when they tweak a stage production just a little bit to turn it into a sort of sit-com like production. It's not one thing or the other.
posted by grumblebee at 8:37 AM on June 5, 2009


In my mind, it works because it doesn't try to pretend it's not a filmed stage play. It's like having really good seats at the theatre. Of course, if you have certain unmovable expectations of what should and should not be on TV, then I guess you won't like it.

For me, it just really is not the same experience at all as having good seats at the theatre. The camera and the eye see things in completely different ways, and it really hurts the sense of immersion for me. I can be completely drawn in by a movie or a live play, but a filmed theatrical production almost never works for me, for whatever reason. I agree that re-jiggering a stage play for the sake of filming it doesn't help, though.

I think a big part of it is that a performance that works in the theatre isn't the same performance that works on camera, and vice versa. McKellen was able to play well as Richard III on both stage and screen because he gave two completely different performances. Here, he's just doing his stage Lear for the camera, and I don't think it reads very well.
posted by EarBucket at 8:47 AM on June 5, 2009



When oh when is someone going to offer the part to Ian McShane?

I'm also nuts about your suggestion, grumblebee.

Physically, McShane is a real titch - sinewy but unexpectedly tiny, though he is blazingly charismatic (I interviewed him years ago when I was on the hack circuit, and he was doing his lovable TV rogue stint in a tedious series called Lovejoy. I remember going into the interview thinking he'd be the sort of actor who would bore my pants off - and left full of unprintable fantasies about different reasons for removing my clothes!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2009


Other Lears I'd like to see: Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, John Hurt, Robert DeNiro, James Cagney (I guess I'd need to revive him from the dead), Michael Gambon, Jack Nicholson, Albert Finney...

Here's my cast:

Lear: Dustin Hoffman
Goneril : Emma Thompson
Regan : Judy Davis
Cordelia : Amanda Seyfried
Fool : Derek Jacobi
Kent : Gene Hackman
Gloucester : Brian Blessed
Edgar : James Frain
Edmond : Clive Owen
France : Liam Neeson
Burgandy : Tom Cruise
Cornwall : Ian McShane
Albany : Sam Waterson
Oswald : Garret Dillahunt

Anyone want to produce?
posted by grumblebee at 10:32 AM on June 5, 2009


I honestly think he's playing Lear as a ham. That's what's tragic about the king -- he falls back on cliches, which are powerless to combat the very real wickedness that's around him.

But I only watched the first scene. (The video kept stuttering.) And I agree that it's a hard play to pull off. I once saw a version where they'd changed the setting to 19th-century Nebraska. The fool was a mentally-retarded teenager - which was more poignant than it sounds - but you have to really believe Lear's great fall from power, or the whole second half just becomes "Woe is me" speeches.

Today's fun-fact: dialogue from King Lear appears at the end of the Beatles' "I am the Walrus"
posted by destinyland at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2009


The fool was a mentally-retarded teenage

I don't get this, unless they substantially changed the story. Shakespeare's fool is clearly very smart.
posted by grumblebee at 10:41 AM on June 5, 2009


dialogue from King Lear appears at the end of the Beatles' "I am the Walrus"

Sit you down father. Rest you.
posted by grumblebee at 10:42 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm completely incapable of getting through the last scene of Lear without crying. It's just about the only thing that reliably brings me to tears every time.

Yeah, I learned when I was teaching freshman English when I was in grad school and showed the Olivier version of Lear, I needed to warn my students ahead of time that they should not be alarmed by the soft sobbing sounds that would be emanating from their teacher in the back of the room during the final scene. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen it or read it, I cry every time.

Also, I will brook no criticism of Ian McKellan. That is all.
posted by scody at 11:23 AM on June 5, 2009


(Fun sidebar: at the Metafilter meetup in Washington DC on Inauguration weekend, we were all sitting around chatting when somebody nudged me and pointed at the older gentleman sitting at the next table and OH MY GOD IT'S SIR IAN HE'S SITTING TEN FEET AWAY.)
posted by EarBucket at 12:04 PM on June 5, 2009


I think Ian McShane might be staying away from 'King' roles for a while.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2009


at the Metafilter meetup in Washington DC on Inauguration weekend, we were all sitting around chatting when somebody nudged me and pointed at the older gentleman sitting at the next table and OH MY GOD IT'S SIR IAN HE'S SITTING TEN FEET AWAY.

Goddammit I KNEW I should've gone to DC!!!
posted by scody at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2009


Ah, yes, here's a picture.
posted by EarBucket at 1:16 PM on June 5, 2009


*sigh* Love. Him.
posted by scody at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2009


I saw this when it aired. McKellen is just an insanely fantastical actor. He doesn't play Lear. He lets the role possess him like a demon taking over his body. It's sick. I love it.
posted by Skygazer at 1:55 PM on June 5, 2009


« Older Ask the Pilot. Columnist Patrick Smith explains wh...  |  Google has released an experim... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments