Review: NT Live – King Lear
King Lear is said to be one of the greatest tragedies ever written. Shakespeare really knew what he was doing, huh?
I read Romeo and Juliet half-heartedly at school. I wasn’t engaged and I know my teacher wasn’t, she would have rather been anywhere else than trying to keep control of unruly, loud kids from the local council estate. Years later Baz Luhrmann reignited the beauty of the bard with his version of Romeo and Juliet and I still have the soundtrack on rotation. That my friends is the only interaction I have had with Shakespeare in my entire life.
So, why the hell would I then decide to take up the offer to head out and watch Sir Ian McKellen perform King Lear in 2018? Good question. I was intrigued. What was this guy all about? Will I be able to understand a word of it? Will there be a bunch of ‘arty types’ in the movie theatre?
Screenings for King Lear NT Live
Before I get to that, let me tell you roughly what King Lear is about for those that don’t know. The play starts with old mate Lear having a bit of a meltdown and asking his three daughters to show how much they love him. One of them refuses to play his ego game and the remaining daughters inherit the shared kingdom. Cordelia, the youngest, who didn’t play ball is the King’s favourite, so as you can imagine this causes a whole lot of drama. The King’s courtier has a son he thinks is the bee’s knees and a bastard son from a past dalliance who he likes a lot less. The old men and their egos bring upon themselves much treachery as both families and the state that these men govern is plunged into a power struggle and a very bitter and twisted end.
King Lear NT Live isn’t a made for TV/Film adaptation, it’s a recording straight from the West End in London and is the National Theatres way of getting theatre into homes to give access to those who can’t get to a theatre and hopefully spark interest in getting out and seeing a play in real life.
I settled in alone and had a glass of wine and a bottle of water ready to go as this is a 3-hour investment! First up was a trailer about the production with some great advice from Sir Ian McKellan. He suggests the viewer relates this age-old play to present day woes. Brexit, Trump, etc. I took the advice and it certainly enabled me to resonate with the play.
Duffy’s Thoughts On King Lear NT Live
This particular King Lear production is set in a 1930’s (ish) parallel universe British Monarchy. The costumes were a great visual aid and being set in the not too distant past, gave me every chance to understand who was who and where they fitted in the pecking order of the kingdom. However, the start was rocky for me, for a very childish reason.
Basically, I’m an uncultured fool and watch far too much BBC comedy. When I first saw Sir Ian booming out from the stage as a regal monarch being a total thespian, I instantly thought of the episode he was in with Ricky Gervais in Extras. In my head, the phrase ‘in the play’ looped over and over and I couldn’t help a little smile to myself.
I shook that off and pretty soon I was absorbed. I won’t lie and say this was the most fascinating 3 hours of my life, because it wasn’t. I’m just not a theatre type of person and alas poor readers (geddit) I never will be. But, talent is talent and whole cast of King Lear NT Live is the cream of the crop and certainly keeps you interested in the story.
This screening is one I suggest you hop along midweek and watch on your own. Grab a wine (or two) and settle in for the long-haul. This is rumoured to be Sir Ian McKellan’s swan song and is an intense and clever way to bow out. It really was an enjoyable experience and I came out of the movie theatre feeling very cultured and high-brow.