Posts Tagged ‘Ian McKellan’


(Lithograph by William Verdult)

Whilst we eagerly await the return of the Ensemble and the opening performances of KING LEAR, readers may like to recall the very first production they saw of this play. Mine was way back in 1968 and it was the first time Trevor Nunn directed it for the RSC. Lear was played by Eric Porter who had been a member of the company since it began in 1960  when his roles had included Leontes and Malvolio. Inbetween engagements at Stratford and the Company’s then London home at the Aldwych Theatre, Porter had achieved further fame as a result of his splendid interpretation of Soames in the BBC adaptation of THE FORSYTE SAGA.

Anticipation was high and expectations were fulfilled. It is also fascinating to consider other casting -Michael Williams playing the Fool for the first time, Alan Howard as Edgar, Norman Rodway as Edmund, David Waller as Kent, Sebastian Shaw as Gloucester, Diane Fletcher, Sheila Allen and Susan Fleetwood as the Daughters. Two future theatrical knights were also in the company, Sir Patrick Stewart as Cornwall and (in his first season at Stratford ) Sir Ben Kingsley as Oswald.

I saw the production very early in the run and at a packed matinee. The audience response at the end remains vivid in the memory, as does  that sense of theatrical excitement prior to the entry of  Lear. Now over forty years later, there will surely be similar excitement at The Courtyard on Thursday 18th February. For those of you who may not previously have seen KING LEAR in the theatre, hurry along because you have a powerful theatrical  experience  in store.

by Tony Boyd-Williams

And Your Favourite King ?

The RSC’s latest King Lear, Greg Hicks, steps on stage this week for the first previews of the new production. Seeing a new production at the Courtyard in the early days, when the air of tension among the company is palpable and everything you see is a surprise, is one of the best things about living in Stratford. And yet a year from today, the production will be one entry in a long list of Lears throughout the years.

Which brings us to the question, who is your best Lear? I think I’ve probably seen about 10 productions over the years, some great, some not so memorable – although to be fair, I have a deep-rooted problem with the play that has nothing to do with the King. The minute Edgar appears I find myself wondering if I’m going to be able to stand Poor Tom being a-cold and if the answer is no, I’m heading for the door. Really, what was Shakespeare thinking?

But I digress. Back to the best Lears. My personal favourites were Timothy West for the English Touring Theatre Company (the only one that has made me cry) and Robert Stephens at the Barbican. The Lawrence Olivier film, with John Hurt as the Fool, was also something pretty special. And there are a few I really wish I’d seen – Richard Briers, Ian Holm and Michael Gambon. My Lear-obsessed friend Ron has seen almost 30 versions and the best as far as he is concerned was Lee Beagley for the Kaboodle company in Liverpool in 1992, with Tom Courtney at the Royal Exchange in Manchester getting a very honourable mention.

We’re running a very unscientific poll over the next few weeks for your best Lear, so all nominations welcome!

by Liz Fisher

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