After a decade, Sir Ian McKellen returned to play KING LEAR at the Chichester Festival Theatre in a sold-out five-week season late last year. Having played the role in Trevor Nunn’s 2007 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Ian felt that performing it in vast theatre’s meant he declaimed lines that should have been more softly spoken or even whispered.
The contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s most unforgiving tragedy in the intimate 280 seat, wrap around Minerva stage gave him that chance and at 78 he is closer to Lear’s age, which helped him achieve his aim: not to act Lear, but to be Lear in what is “probably his last big Shakespeare part,” according to a recent BBC interview.
The critics agreed, after six decades of acting, Sir Ian ‘reigned supreme’. “McKellen is never less than astonishing,” wrote Neil Norman in the Express, “McKellen is in full command of a lifetime’s acting technique,” said Mark Stenton in The Stage and ‘McKellen meticulously explores Lear’s delusions of grandeur,” exclaimed the Metro’s John Nathan.
I left this drawing at the theatre, which Sir Ian signed and dedicated with a bronze sharpie complete with a metallic glow on his insignia.