It was a long wait between booking and seeing the play, but on Saturday evening we finally got to see it!
It was my first visit to the Minerva Theatre in Chichester - it's small, seating around 280 people, and for this production at least, the stage is a red-carpeted circle, out in the auditorium.
Our seats were in the front row, right at one end, which meant we had an excellent, close up view of the action, albeit sometimes at a bit of on angle!
The play opens in Lear's palace, as King Lear (Ian McKellen) announces his plan to divide his kingdom. He stands at a flag-decked lectern, in full uniform, in front of a massive portrait of himself.
Initially jovial, cheerily cutting the map of the country up to pass to his daughters, he then, of course, quickly turns on his daughter, Cordelia, (Tamara Lawrence) for her honesty. It's interesting to note that in this production, Lear then hands the additional sections of the map, not to Regan (Kirsty Bushell) and Goneril (Dervla Kirwan), but to their respective husbands...
|Credit: MANUEL HARLAN|
Sinead Cusack was Kent, and in disguising herself to follow Lear, disguised herself as a man (which makes the whole 'Neither King Lear or his daughters recognise someone who has been his trusted counsellor for years' thing, marginally more believable).
Lear's '100' knights were bread-roll throwing, tweed and Burberry-clad hooray Henries, and it was easy to sympathise with Regan and Goneril's wish to be rid of them, despite the terms agreed with their father.
The size of the theatre mean that this production was very intimate, and allowed the soliloquies to be incredibly conversational.
The storm scene was ... damp - and very effective. Vast quantities of rain falling, drenching Lear, Gloucester, the fool, and Edgar, and leaving those of us in the front rows a little damp, as mist drifted our way, and trickles of water overflowing from the stage became streams...
It really emphasised Lear's vulnerability, but also the beginnings of his own humanity, as he tried to cover Edgar/Poor Tom with his coat, and in turn, Kent's care of Lear. (although I have to admit that I was slightly distracted by wondering whether being drenched with cold water for such an extended period could really be good for poor Ian McKellen; he's not as young as he was!)
In the second half, the red carpet was gone from the stage, leaving it white concrete (all the better for stamping on eyeballs in a squelchy way)and of course things go rapidly downhill for almost everyone.
McKellen's Lear was increasingly vulnerable and human, as his mind and body fail. The closing scenes, as he was reunited with, then mourned for, Cordelia, were very moving.
In short, it was pretty damn good. I've seen the Ian McKellen has now said this may be his last major Shakespearean role. I hope it isn't, but I am very glad I had the chance to see it - not only for McKellen himself, but also because it was a such a strong cast, I don't think there was a single weak link.
The run has now ended (and was sold out, in any case) - otherwise I'd be urging everyone to go to see it. But I shall be looking out for Tamara Lawrence and Damien Molony in future....