‘Which of you shall we say doth love us most?’ — Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear | TheUnion.com

‘Which of you shall we say doth love us most?’ — Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear

John Deaderick
Special to The Union
KING LEAR by Shakespeare, , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - Jonathan Munby, Designer - Paul Wills, Lighting Oliver Fenwick, The Duke Of Yorks Theatre, 2018, Credit: Johan Persson/
Photo by Johan Persson


WHO: Sierra Cinemas presents

WHAT: National Theatre Live: “King Lear”

WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, E. Main Street Grass Valley

TICKETS: $18 Adults, $15 Seniors, Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at www.sierratheaters.com/ntlive or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO: Visit www.sierratheaters.com, or call 530-477-9000 for more information

“No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.” — George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw’s pronouncement finds support in this powerfully moving production featuring Sir Ian McKellen.

This is Shakespeare’s darkest vision of humanity, even darker than that of “Macbeth.”

Unlike “The Scottish Play,” there are no supernatural agencies driving the greed, the lust, the blindness both physical and moral.

In “King Lear,” the deviltry is all too human, and tragically, it’s all in the family. A King divides his domain; he seeks to be unburdened and yet retain his privileges.

Two fathers reject those who truly love them; they are on the one hand blinded by flattery, and on the other, by deceit.

The play, from 1606, minimally set and effectively directed here by Jonathan Munby, is presented in modern dress. The presentational style preserves the theatrical devices of direct address and abstract staging.

“King Lear” treats with insanities both feigned and real, loyalties both truly and falsely given, and as is so often depicted in Shakespeare, the external world as metaphor reflecting the internal life of the characters.

What is the storm but Lear’s raving, all encompassing, madness?

McKellen, as one undoubtedly would expect, gives a magisterial masterpiece of a performance. By turns both grandiose and intimate, McKellen’s pain seems so deeply felt that we are seared by its heat as we are dumbfounded by his initial misjudgment that sets the tragedy in motion.

Kirsty Bushell stands out as the lusty Regan, the King’s treacherous middle daughter.

As terrible as his actions become, one can feel sympathy for the bastard son Edmund, so brilliantly portrayed by James Corrigan, as he overhears his father Gloucester jesting of his conceiving in a whore’s bed. Ouch.

That Gloucester (a strong performance by Danny Webb) cannot see the hatred he has engendered parallels Lear’s failed perception. Echoing a 21st century trend in characterization, Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Cordelia is strident and martial rather than the more soft and yielding rejected daughter of times past.

In this play it is those who truly love that are made to suffer. Luke Thompson’s betrayed, loyal son Edgar is at his best in his self-abasing disguise as Mad Tom.

The one character allowed to speak truth to power, Lear’s Fool, is given a masterful, deeply felt interpretation by Lloyd Hutchinson. He exits the story much too soon.

You may not know it, but you have all heard a snippet of dialogue from Lear. In 1967 John Lennon held a microphone to a radio during a BBC broadcast.

That bit found eternal life near the end of “I Am The Walrus” that ends with “Sit you down, father, rest you … ”


John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of “Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis,” available at Amazon.com.

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