Review Roundup: Ian McKellen-Led KING LEAR at Chichester Festival Theatre

Review Roundup: Ian McKellen-Led KING LEAR at Chichester Festival Theatre

Two ageing fathers - one a King, one his courtier - reject the children who truly love them. Their blindness unleashes a tornado of pitiless ambition and treachery - and their worlds crumble. Tender, violent, moving and shocking, King Lear is considered by many to be the greatest tragedy ever written. This will be an explosive, charged and contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's epic masterpiece in the intimate setting of the Minerva Theatre.

Jonathan Munby directs, following his acclaimed production of First Light for Festival 2016. The ensemble of actors includes Ian McKellen, who last appeared at Chichester in The Syndicate in 2011.

The production just opened at the Minerva Theatre as part of the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Rona Kelly, BroadwayWorld: The world of Munby's King Lear feels big, its rotundity encompassing and drawing in audiences. From the King to the "poor naked wretches", we see their stories and weather the storms with them. The strength of this production comes from its impressive ensemble, led by an incredible but not infallible McKellen. This Lear is full of so much love at the start: dancing with Tamara Lawrance's ethereal Cordelia, they rejoice in her union, an arranged marriage sometimes played with a sense of resignation. But this extreme of love brings with it its antithesis. Betrayed by Cordelia, Lear almost throws a chair at her in hatred. This is a complex Lear, perhaps a man more sinning than sinned against. To an extent, his lack of emotional connection lessened my own investment in the final scene.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: There's a lot of grand ceremony in Jonathan Munby's lucid, insightful, finely acted production, which, with its imposing initial mixture of quasi Edwardian attire and gestures of fearful reverence to the gods above, more resembles an echo of Trevor Nunn's opulent staging than a retort to it. Yet the sense of elaborate ritual (compounded by the action being played out on a circular, red-carpeted dais) doesn't place this "foolish fond old man" on a lofty pedestal.

Maxwell Cooter, Whatsonstage: The ten years since his last Lear have added a new dimension to McKellen's performance, this is a man struggling to come to terms with the diminution of his powers - physical, mental and regal. There's a quiet resignation about him: even the "blow winds" speech is not presented as a raging against the storm but an acceptance that this is the way of the world.

Henry Hitchings Evening Standard: It is McKellen's detailed performance that's the production's triumph. With finely measured intelligence he traces Lear's inexorable movement from pomp via rage and shambolic delirium to melancholy tenderness and the agony of belated self-knowledge.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: McKellen's Lear is no Stonehenge Titan. Instead it dwells, almost conversationally, on the guilt, remorse and mix of reason and madness that may accompany old age. McKellen is at his best in the encounter with Gloucester where he uses all his technique to illustrate often obscure lines yet movingly fights back his tears when he talks of "this great stage of fools". Early in his career, McKellen showed how Richard II acquired humanity through loss of kingly power. Now he shows how Lear, exposed to even greater suffering, undergoes a similar journey of fruitful disintegration. Even though the physical scale is small, it remains a massive performance.

Paul Taylor, Independent: At the age of 78, Ian McKellen adds to the roster of his greatest achievements with this extraordinarily moving portrayal of King Lear. He toured the world in the part ten years ago in a RSC production, designed for a large thrust stage, that sometimes visited "theatres too uncongenially spacious", as he puts it in the programme for Jonathan Munby's compelling and lucid chamber version of the play in the Minerva Studio. "I wanted to speak the lines again, at times as conversation" he explains. In the wraparound intimacy of this space, McKellen is able to heighten the intensity of what Lear says through colloquial understatement and a playing-around with the beat and tempo of the verse that gives an almost jazz-like freedom and unpredictability to the king's utterances. Instead of generalised rant, nuance.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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