Posts Tagged ‘King Lear’

23rd February to 2nd April were marvellous weeks in RSC History. The productions of KING LEAR and ROMEO AND JULIET on our new main stage deservedly received great acclaim as did the brilliant restaging by Michael and his company of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA in the Swan. The final performance of that production was indeed a night to be proud of and to remember.

However, there were more treats in store. The YPS productions of HAMLET and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS were successfully revived, with much praise from the older members of the audiences in addition to that from the youngsters present. Both productions confirmed the riches and strengths of our 2009-2011 ensemble and underlined what splendid results are obtained when  a company stays together for such a period of time.

Secondly, this hugely talented company allowed us to see them in an entirely different light when they gave us THE RSC ENSEMBLE REVEALED. And then as if to crown it all, we had two further sensational staging’s – THE TEMPEST (a welcome return of Little Angel Theatre in association with the RSC ) and the first RSC Studio production -THE RAPE OF LUCRECE. Now this makes a total of eight events in our theatres in just over five weeks!! Certainly, a fitting start to the momentous year of our 50th Birthday Celebrations.

However, all this was just the beginning. As I write this, the ensemble are back in London for a season of new work prior to their visit to New York and the first members of our new acting ensemble are settling down with us and the previews of Macbeth and Cardenio are well under way. These early performances are proving most enjoyable, exciting and a first  rate start to the new productions which are marking our 50th Birthday Season. We are being treated to yet more outstanding acting/technical talent as well as fantastic direction from Michael and Greg.

If any readers have not yet booked for these productions, then I advise a visit to our hard working Box Office colleagues as quickly as possible. And the arrival of additional acting ensemble members for The Merchant of Venice and The City Madam companies indicates further treats are in store!

To all who have been with the RSC before, welcome back! To all who are with us for the first time, welcome indeed! We hope you all enjoy this very special time in Stratford and do please be assured of our support and best wishes.

Tony Boyd-Williams

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Well we have been in Stratford for almost a year after our sojourn around the world. What a wonderful place. The RST, as my wife, Ingrid, so aptly puts it is an Olympus of Magic Places. I so much enjoy being an RSC Friend and am delighted to help where I can. Great memories of the last year  the “Visitor Counting’, the Candlelight Procession, the Builders Evening,  Backstopping for the Tours. the Costume Sale, the superb and so well organised RSC Events, the friendship and welcome by so many of you in particular the industrious Jane, Penny and Valerie. And not forgetting the friendliness and professional approach of the Guides, FOH, Box Office and the Marketing team. I have met so many interesting people. Becky Loftus, Head of Audience Insight, who was in charge of the Visitor Counting and Feedbacks like everyone in the Marketing Department, seems to work around the clock. Thank you all for making the last year so enjoyable.

The theatre is wonderful, the acoustics outstanding and the productions all great. I have been looking at some of the notes I made about them. 

Romeo and Juliet.                 “Jonjo was brilliant, the best Mercutio we have ever seen and Rupert Goold should be very pleased with his cast. Well done all of them. Listening to Mariah Gale with her back to us proved yet again how wonderful the acoustics are in this magnificent place.”  (3 March) “Our son, over from Germany, had the wonderful opportunity to watch R&J last night and like us thoroughly enjoyed the performance. He was really impressed by the theatre, the acoustics, the seating, the décor, the architecture etc. In addition, thank you to the superb box office team who were helpful and informative and went out of their way to help him as was evident to most people standing around the foyer.” (10 March)

Antony and Cleopatra               We very much enjoyed Antony and Cleopatra. There were outstanding dynamic performances by Katy Stephens and Darrell D’Silva. Very impressed by all the cast-well done in particular, Brian Doherty, Hannah Young and Sandy Neilson. We were very impressed too by the FOH lady who was so kind to an elderly gentleman sitting near us, in ensuring he found his way to his seat. Congratulations to the RSC and Michael Boyd. We enjoyed the production much more than last year at the Courtyard. (14 March)

King Lear                                 I watched this brilliant production twice within a week .Very impressed. Greg Hicks and the cast were outstanding. Darrell D’Silva, when Caius, proved yet again his acting skills and remembered his South Yorkshire roots. The director, David Farr, must be very pleased with what he has achieved. The casting director should also be commended-what joy to have Kelly and Katy as the evil sisters. We really enjoyed Geoffrey Freshwater as Gloucester, even better than his skinning a rabbit (AYLI). Yes, we were bowled over; just hope the England cricket team is not at the world cup! (16 March)

by David Stevens, RSC Friend, Stratford upon Avon

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How splendid to be able to look back and say “I was there”. What a marvellous atmosphere in our new main house auditorium before, during and after the very first full length production on the new stage of one of William Shakespeare’s plays. The KING LEAR company did us proud indeed as they took to the stage with the panache and assurance suggesting they had been performing on it for many months.

At the end of this historic performance, much cheering and a large section of the audience on their feet. Bravo indeed !

The entire company (including all backstage members) had been working flat out with technical rehearsals earlier in the week and the evening was also a triumph for our Lighting, Sound and Automation Departments. Those of us who greatly enjoyed the special event on 15th December last  (LIGHTS SOUND ACTION) know that Vince Herbert, Jeremy Dunn and Adam Harvey – together with their colleagues, had been awaiting their opportunity to show what marvellous technical effects audiences can now expect. A  great deal of planning and expertise had been involved and to  all concerned, a bravo is due for you as well.

I now await a similarly enjoyable experience with the restaging of ROMEO AND JULIET, as well as the special effects for the new productions in our 50th Birthday celebrations. 

It is certainly going to be quite a year!

Tony Boyd-Williams

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The above is indeed true of former RSC actor Pete Postlethwaite who has just died at the age of 64. I first saw him on stage in 1979 at the Buxton Festival when he played Sergeant Kite (a rich character performance) in the Bristol Old Vic’s production of THE RECRUITING OFFICER which was directed by Adrian Noble. Four years later, Adrian made his debut at the RSC with his direction of KING LEAR when the title role was taken by Michael Gambon, Antony Sher played the Fool and Pete Posthethwaite was a bluff and sadistic Cornwall.

In the same season he was a loyal and vengeful Macduff, with a return to comedy  showing superb clowning as Grumio in Barry Kyle’s Production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. I next saw him in the 1986 season as a notable Bottom when his fellow mechanicals included David Haig and Sean Bean.

Another splendid performance in a Shakespearian role has been captured for all time with his superb Friar Laurence (both pastoral and moving) in Baz Lurhmann’s film ROMEO AND JULIET. In this special year when we celebrate 50 years since the granting of the Royal Charter to our company, we remember players like Pete Postlethwaite whose performances are  both  vivid memories and worthy to be recalled as we think of the theatrical ghosts of Stratford past. For him and other former RSC members who have strutted their hours upon the stage, the following words seem most fitting at this time :

“Fear no more the heat o’the sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy wordly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages “.

by Tony Boyd-Williams

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Tuesday May 5th gave us another marvellous Public Understudy performance with the KING LEAR understudies being given their moment and actors like Greg Hicks, Kathryn Hunter, John McKay and Geoffrey Freshwater showing unselfish teamwork by appearing in cameo roles. As with the recent Public Understudy performance of ROMEO AND JULIET, this ensemble brilliantly show that if an understudy is called on to take over, then the audience will see performances both loyal to the director’s concept and showing the sheer talent of the actor concerned. It is significant that whilst Darrell D’Silva has been recovering from his recent injury, the role of the Earl of Kent has been played by Paul Hamilton. Paul’s performance is a classic example of what I was referring to above. It was also significant that Darrell was in the audience to support his colleague, as was director David Farr to equally support his Assistant Director Vik Sivalingham who had directed this special performance. What IS so special about these Public Understudy treats is that they are enabling audiences to see a performance which will never happen again and as such it is a further privilege that Michael Boyd has offered us. Above all, such performances highlight the advantage of ensemble work, especially when they have been working so long together. Although Tuesday’s performance was a splendid company effort, special mention must be made of James Gale’s performance of Lear and Sophie Russell’s doubling as Cordelia and the Fool. One must not forget the sheer professionalism of the backstage ensemble who with such a brilliant storm also ensure that such performances are ones to be admired and remembered. I am sure we now await these same members of the ensemble giving us the Public Understudy performance of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA on 18th May. Tony Boyd-Williams

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I did not see any of Corin Redgrave’s early appearances with the RSC, but I do have a VHS which captures his Octavius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra, following an ITV recording of the production. The first time I saw him on stage was a year or so before he went to Stratford. He had just taken over from Daniel Massey (also to be a member of the RSC in 1983/4) the title role of Abelard in Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Heloise which was enjoying a West End run at Wyndham’s Theatre. I still recall the quiet dignity and sensitivity which he brought to the role of the philosopher monk, as well as his anguish as he sought God’s guidance for his future.

Provincial Theatre also provided him with rich roles. I think particularly of his appearance at Derby as Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version (a role previously made famous by his father in the early film version) and at Lichfield Garrick when he co-directed the opening production of The Recruiting Officer and also provided a ripe and memorable character study of Captain Brazen.

I particularly remember his return to the RSC in 1996. It was to play George Washington in the premiere of The General from America and our younger son and myself were present for the first preview. What was noticeable was again the sensitivity he brought to the role, as well as his quite unselfish underplaying. Our son (who was studying Drama) had never seen Corin Redgrave before (although he had of course heard of him) and after the performance remarked it had been “..a treat to watch such acting”.

Fortunately, Stratford was to welcome back this member of the Redgrave dynasty when he was invited by Michael Boyd to play King Lear in the 2004 season of Tragedies at the Main House. It was fascinating to think that Michael Redgrave had also played the role at the then Shakespeare Memorial Theatre over fifty years before and his son now added to theatrical lore another memorable interpretation of this most challenging of roles.

Not only are these performances captured on video at the Shakespeare Centre, but an earlier interpretation of Lear is obtainable on cassette following a BBC Radio Three broadcast in 2001.

I am also aware that he played Kenneth Tynan during the New Work Festival that season, but alas I was not able to get to a performance. What I DO remember that season is his appearance for a Question and Answer session during the RSC Summer School at the Shakespeare Institute and the gracious way in which he was prepared to discuss his interpretation of Lear. Not only that, he was happy to remain afterwards to chat about the production and I was fortunate to have a few words with someone who will remain a legend in British Theatre.

Tony Boyd-Williams

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Greg Hicks

Reviewing an RSC production in 1965, the drama critic Hugh Leonard ended thus “…from me a loud cheer and a second visit as soon as possible “. These words came back to me when watching the exciting first preview of KING LEAR on 18th February and I made a second visit on the 23rd February so I could join in the loud cheers again for what is an outstanding evening in the theatre.

David Farr and his designer Jon Bausor have come up with a most original and powerful staging which so superbly takes us from the time of Lear’s dynasty to the age of the younger generation when betrayal, treason, invasion and greed for power tear the country apart and with devastating consequences. There are some coups de theatre reminding one of the crashing bookcases in THE WINTER’S TALE but I shall not spoil the effects by revealing them.

How right Michael Boyd was when he stated that by now the work of the ensemble would begin to cook. Every character has their own special moment and as was the case with THE HISTORIES ensemble one year on we see teamwork and performances par excellence. The rehearsal period has resulted  in an absolutely splendid speaking of the text, so much so that anyone seeing the play for the first time, comes to a story so clearly told. In fact, it is so clear that so much inflection and stage business comes straight from the text. It will be fascinating to see this cast in ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA, not forgetting the two public understudy performances.

It is an ensemble production, but Greg Hick’s performance of Lear must be given individual mention for many reasons. His first entrance is most striking and original as are his relationships with his daughters, the Fool, Kent and Gloucester. He finds meanings both powerful and moving in the text, all of which come across as so fresh and memorable. In Greg Hicks, we also see the humour of the man, his ability to relate to those who are loyal to him and his baffled hurt and pain on being rejected -rejection so cruel that madness follows. I also came away from this production thinking that THIS Lear would indeed have been a strong and mighty ruler in his prime and realizing why his loyal subjects were so heartbroken by his death.

A terrific start to the new season !

by Tony Boyd-Williams, RSC Friends, Stratford

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(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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