As we climbed the stairs up to the Circle at the Donmar, we could feel the heat hit us the higher we went. Wearing several layers of clothes because of the cold weather outside, it was clear that we were going to be hot through the production. It was very strange watching King Lear feeling so hot on a cold winter’s day. Sat right at the back of the circle, I felt at a distance from the production, even though the Donmar is such an intimate space. How you feel, and where you view the production from, has an impact on how you experience it. I think being hot and high up made me think of the performances in a way I might not have if I’d been in the stalls.
The focus was on the language of the characters and not on clever stage devices. I liked the way that the production was well paced and only three hours long. I also liked the white cube minimal set design, as it seemed to emphasise the bleakness, but it also gives space for the language to create the sense of place. The black shadows on the stage walls were like the carrion on the publicity material, which was a nice effect. There was also some very clear verse speaking from some of the lead characters. Indeed, all the reviews say that this production is a great production, and Michael Billington said that Jacobi was one of the great Lears of all time. I would say that Jacobi’s central performance was very good indeed. Overall the production just didn’t take my breath away. Some performances stood out such as Gina McKee who was a good Goneril, but without the temper that Kelly Hunter has brought to the role in the RSC production (now at the Roundhouse). The final scene was very moving and Jacobi made a good attempt to bring the body on stage, but had to be helped to set the body down. At the very end and just before the curtain call, the lights come up and the sun shines for a moment presenting an image of hope.
I will see this production again at NT Live. It will be interesting to see the production close up on the big screen. I am sure this will be a very different viewing experience, and I will miss being in the theatre witnessing a live performance.
Reviews and Previews