REVIEW: King Lear

I have heard of live screenings at the Michigan Theater before but had never attended one before King Lear. There were live screenings of Julie and Frankenstein just recently. The Madness of King George (starring Mark Gatiss) and The Nutcracker will be playing December 9th and December 23rd respectively.

King Lear, often considered as the greatest tragedy ever written, was broadcast live in HD from the National Theatre in London. I am really glad I experienced the live screening. I liked how the camera showed the audience before and after the show, as well as during the intermission. It added to the illusion of being there in person.

Before the show, there was a video interview of the actors. It was informative to hear how the stage was designed to promote an intimate experience for the audience. A center stage and walkway (which divided the audience into two sections) was set up. Audience members were so close to production that they could hear the actors’ inhalation and exhalations.

I loved the setup and props used in the show. During the storm that happened in the play, real water poured down the actors’ faces. I could see water splashing as they walked onto stage during the rainstorm. I also really liked their use of a mirror to extend (or at least give the illusion of extending) the stage.

All the actors were fully realized. I appreciated the skill and artistry of each actor. During emotional scenes, I saw real tears run down their faces. My appreciation for Ian McKellen as an actor also grew when I saw him in King Lear. Prior to the show, I only knew him from the X-Men film series. I was surprised to find that he has been involved in more theater productions than movies, and I was blown away by his physical and mental capacity at the age of 79. Memorizing a complex script and performing in physically intensive scenes (kneeling, engaging in fight scenes, carrying other characters, etc), I imagine, are difficult on the body.

It was an emotional play. The fight scenes were entertaining and choreographed very well. There were also scenes that were quite disturbing (i.e. the eye gouging scene) and incredibly well done. No wonder the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of King Lear received five-star reviews.

There were definitely differences (disadvantages?) between seeing a live screening of the play and being there in person. There were some issues with the microphone during the show which were generally minor but distracting. Additionally, the camera dictated which character’s expressions or part of the stage the audience focused on in a particular moment. In movies, blocking is done specifically for the camera. But in a play, blocking is designed for live audience. The audience gets to absorb what’s happening on the entire stage at all times and can choose what to pay particular attention to. A camera changes these dynamics. But to me, these sacrifices demanded by a live screening are well worth it to see a fantastic production of King Lear.

Minna W

Minna believes in three things: Milk chocolate. Happiness. Narratives are the way to people’s hearts and impactful solutions.

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