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"Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise"
'King Lear' to this day still compels and moves me and Shakespeare's text is poetic and haunting with many emotions. It is not one of my favourites of Shakespeare's plays and it is not always easy getting behind Lear straight away (took time for me when studying it), those being introduced to the play may be put off by him in the first act. That still doesn't stop 'King Lear' from being a powerful experience when done right, and likewise with Lear as a character.
A powerful experience this 2011 'King Lear' is. There are some excellent productions of 'King Lear', one of Shakespeare's most filmed and performed plays despite being a difficult play to take on and Lear being a mammoth part. This production is as good as the best of them, and while not quite one of the standouts of the fascinating National Theatre Live series it is one of its best early 2010s, and one of the better-faring overall, Shakespeare productions.
Some may not find that the set designs are (relatively) minimalist is to their taste. That wasn't a problem for me at all. It was done atmospherically and tastefully, plus they looked good and unlike the previous Shakespeare production of the series 'Hamlet' didn't look tacky or under-budgeted. The beautifully austere lighting helped, like with the thrilling central storm. Was less taken with the costumes, which looked as though not as much attention or time went into them in the same way as the sets and lighting. The score and sound loom ominously, with a nice contrast also with the birdsong. It is photographed with intimacy but also not being too rigid, meaning that we can see details that can be missed when seeing it in a theatre.
The use of language and Shakespeare's text has full impact, the emotional power blistering. The staging perfectly captures the play's haunting intensity and poignancy, never being over-crowded or static, Gloucester's fall (that scene on Dover Heath!), the recognition scene and the mad scenes being especially brilliantly done.
Had no issues with any of the performances, even if Pippa Bennett-Warner's still heartfelt Cordelia is not quite as meaty as the rest of the cast. Gina McKee portrays Goneril with bucketsfull of calculating venom and Justine Mitchell doesn't overdo Regan's manic personality. Paul Jesson makes Gloucester's fall quite heart-wrenching. Anybody who makes the Fool interesting in the way Ron Cook, those unsettling silences, does deserves a lot of credit. Alec Newman gets under the skin as Edmund and there is a lot of passion in Gwilym Lee's Edgar.
Derek Jacobi as Lear is the one who dominates. This is a towering portrayal, very like Rory Kinnear in 'Hamlet' he disappears into this mammoth role and makes one understand Lear and his actions. Felt sorry for Lear, while seeing his flaws as well.
In summation, excellent. 9/10
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