The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0097 Friday, 8 March 2013
Date: March 7, 2013 10:22:06 PM EST
Subject: Michael Neill’s Lear in Auckland
People in Auckland currently have the good fortune to see a Shakespeare event that is probably unprecedented—a full-scale outdoor production of King Lear directed by a first-time director starring a septuagenarian scholar who hasn’t appeared on stage since about 1969. And it is very good.
It helps that the first-time director is Lisa Harrow, who has an illustrious international career as an actor at the RSC and elsewhere; and Michael Hurst (who also plays Lear’s exasperated Fool) had a hand in the direction.
Lear himself is played by the eminent Shakespeare scholar Michael Neill whose work is widely known and admired, and who is now an emeritus professor at Auckland University. Anyone who has heard him deliver lectures or conference papers will have seen and heard snippets of his ability to speak the speech with a combination of intelligence and emotion—but quoting a few lines is a far cry from delivering an entire performance in a season that will last for a month. (I saw a preview on the night of 1 March.)
The last two acts are especially moving, when Lear finally acknowledges that he has no power to command (or know) what he wants—and indeed, even when he was a king, never really had.
I was at the beginning of my second year at Auckland University when I first saw Michael perform in Richard II. (I was a very lightweight and unconvincing 18-year-old Willoughby.) He played York and even then I recognised that he had a kind of gravitas as an actor that I couldn’t account for. The words he spoke seemed somehow to be forced out under great pressure, giving them a weight and significance that I had never encountered before. It made the less experienced among us—or me at any rate—feel as if we were just talking.
This performance is supported by a strong cast (including SHAKSPER member Tom Bishop). Several people I spoke to were, above all, impressed by the clarity of the text. The production was lightly miked, but probably didn’t need to be.
But ultimately the night was Neill’s, and he made the most of it.
For more information about the production, see http://www.maidment.auckland.ac.nz
Professor of Theatre Studies
School of Arts
University of New England