THEATRE REVIEW: King Lear, National Theatre Live, South Holland Centre, Spalding
Legends of the English stage rarely come as qualified as Sir Ian McKellen with almost 70 years of theatre roles behind him.
But Shakespeare's King Lear demands every last sinew of the energy, expertise and eloquence the 79-year-old acting knight of the realm has memorably brought to roles, including Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit), David Copperfield, King Richard II and Magneto (X-Men).
For this Chichester Festival Theatre production of Shakespeare's tale of family betrayal, mental breakdown, kingdom uprising and predictable charity, McKellen makes every second of playing King Lear his own with a performance described by no less an authority as The Stage as "pretty astonishing".
There is no shortage of stage magnetism from the supporting cast, headed by Sinead Cusack (V For Vendetta), Danny Webb (Humans), Claire Price (Rebus) and Kirsty Bushell (Silk).
In short, King Lear decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters.
But first comes a father-daughter beauty contest as to how much each of them loves him.
When Cordelia (Anita-Jopy Uwajeh) finds it impossible to put into words how much she loves her father, Lear disowns her and she is effectively banished to France with its king.
The rest of the play is about the unravelling of Lear's shocking choice as his other daughters, Goneril (Price) and Regan (Bushell) effectively tear his kingdom away from him.
Lear descends into near anarchy, accompanied by his Fool (Lloyd Hutchinson) and Kent (Cusack).
Meanwhile, Gloucester (Webb) wrongly believes that his real son Edgar (Luke Thompson) is trying to kill him, only to find that Lear’s daughters have turned against their father.
Tortured and blinded by Regan and her husband Cornwall (Daniel Rabin) for supposed treachery, Gloucester ends up having to be led by his disguised son, Edgar to Dover where Lear has also been brought.
Meanwhile, Cordelia puts together a French army to save her father, but suffers defeat at the hands of English troops who take her and Lear captive.
But in the play's climax, Edgar kills Edmund in a duel, Gloucester dies, Goneril poisons Regan out of jealousy over Edmund before killing herself when Albany (Anthony Howell) discovers her betrayal treachery and Cordelia is executed in prison.
The will to live drains from Lear's body who eventually dies out of sorrow at Cordelia’s death, leaving Albany, Edgar, and Kent left to lead England.
Coming so soon after South Holland Centre's Oscar Wilde Season, King Lear serves as an outstanding reminder of Shakespeare's undisputed place as England's greatest-ever playwright.
Review by Winston Brown