The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.041  Monday, 20 January 2014


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 19, 2014 at 1:56:57 PM EST

Subject:    Out of Their Minds: The Actors’ Guide to Playing King Lear


[Editor’s Note: The following excerpt appeared in The Guardian online on Sunday: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/jan/12/actors-guide-king-lear-simon-russell-beale -Hardy] 


Out of Their Minds: The Actors' Guide to Playing King Lear


Ian McKellen dreaded it, Albert Finney dodged it. As Simon Russell Beale prepares to play Lear in Sam Mendes's eagerly awaited production, Laura Barnett talks to five actors who risked their sanity (and their knees) to wear the crown


Laura Barnett

Sunday 12 January 2014

The Guardian





Jonathan Pryce


Played Lear at London's Almeida theatre in 2012, directed by Michael Attenborough. Some critics questioned the production's implication that Lear might have abused his daughters.


Tradition dictates that you should play Lear while you're young enough to lift Cordelia up and carry her. I was 65, and I put my back out doing it – I couldn't carry her for the entire second half of the production's run. 


[ . . . ]


Edward Petherbridge


Had a stroke while rehearsing a version in New Zealand in 2007 and abandoned the role. In 2013, he made a show, My Perfect Mind, about his experience.


Doing any Shakespeare play is like trying to assemble flatpack furniture: you have to make it 3D by following Shakespeare’s mysterious instructions. You feel you must get it absolutely as he intended, but it’s very easy to come out with something that he might not even recognise: a commode, say, rather than a desk.


[ . . . ]


To begin with, I found the old man very difficult to relate to. He’s so emotionally immature, so outrageously blinkered. I pride myself on being quite a good father to my three children. I know they love me. I don’t have to set them a competition.


[ . . . ]


Oliver Ford Davies


Appeared as Lear at the Almeida, London, in 2002. Wrote Playing Lear, a book about the character’s joys and challenges.


Most actors, when they reach a certain position of eminence, think they’ve got to do Lear. Along with Hamlet, it’s the apex for Shakespearean actors. You come to Hamlet with youthful vigour and a certain degree of innocence. But with Lear, having had 30 or 40 years of acting, you’re supposed to know what you’re doing.


[ . . . ]


The first two acts are very hard. Lear is completely lacking in self-knowledge: both Hamlet and Macbeth get long soliloquies, but Lear is only given brief stabs of insight. And it’s very difficult to determine what the play is ultimately about. Shakespeare does this strange thing of sticking to the story for the first two acts, then makes Lear go mad in a storm. You think: “Why did he do that? Is it meant to show that we’re powerless in a random universe?”


[  . . . ]


Kathryn Hunter


Played Lear at Leicester's Haymarket theatre in 1997. Also co-wrote My Perfect Mind (see Edward Petherbridge, above).


It was the director Helena Kaut-Howson who had the idea of casting a woman as Lear. She had recently lost her mother, who was extraordinary: very Lear-like. She didn't know I had a secret obsession with the character. I was about 35 and it seemed a completely crazy idea, but I said yes – and an incredible journey began.


[ . . . ]


Timothy West


Has played the part three times, most recently in 2002-03, with English Touring Theatre.


I was ridiculously young the first time I played Lear. It was at the 1971 Edinburgh festival and I was still in my 30s. The second time was in Dublin in 1991. Each time you play the part, you change, the world changes, and audiences change. In 1971, the general feeling from the audience was: “Poor old guy with those two awful children – what a very unfair thing.” By 1991, it was more: “Why does Lear need 100 knights? I can’t even get somebody to do my garden.”


[ . . . ]


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