King Lear

King Lear
dir. Angus Jackson (2013)

This January, The Chichester Theatre festival brought King Lear to BAM, starring the Hollywood legend Frank Langella (and some other people).  Langella is a long-standing Hollywood actor, known in the US for his stage work, and most is most famous in England for Frost/Nixon and (lest we forget), Dracula.

The production was sparse and elegant – a beautiful wooden map of England dominated the stone round stage, which was removed for the heath scene, when Lear was out in the rain.  The lighting hues were consistently warm, which not only worked well with the beautiful Harvey Theatre, but eloquently represented the tone of the production.

Langella was undoubtedly the star of the show, and quite rightly so.  His Lear was imperious and commanding, yet as the play continued, evolved into a warm and loving patriarch. This isn’t entirely typical of Lear, and changed the nature of the tragedy – sometimes King Lear can be a test of endurance, and the epic scope of the production can unleash histrionics in the best of actors. In this case, the tragedy of the play was that Lear was a good man, who simply realized too late that he had taken too little care of the things that mattered.  Such an interpretation played to Langella’s strengths: his quiet and subdued delivery drew forward the audience, and was a great example of still waters running deep.  It was particularly effective at the death scene.  With so many corpses littering the stage, it is easy to be unaffected by the suffering of Lear at the end, but Langella’s quiet devastation was crushing. It also helped the death of Lear, which comes suddenly in the text – Langella literally faded away and gave up his hold on life, when faced with the loss of Cordelia.

The weakness of this production was, quite frankly, the rest of the cast.  Presumably hired to complement Langella, the supporting cast were indistinct and simply stood back while Langella worked.  Cordelia, in particular, was appallingly hollow.  The exception was Max Bennett’s Edmund, who was a humorous and working class alternative to the aristocratic world of the court.  His Edmund was a welcome vibrancy in an otherwise staid supporting cast.  (L.Geddes, January 2013)



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