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.
British actress Jane Horrocks played Regan, one of the declining monarch’s daughters, in the latest production of KING LEAR at the Old Vic. Small in statue, but huge on talent, the LITTLE VOICE star said “I relish my smallness. I really like my smallness,” in a Guardian interview earlier this year. She stands 5′ 4″ in ‘killer heels’ stalking about the stage ‘dangerously oversexed’ and ‘deliciously conniving’, complete with her signature shock blonde hair, seen recently in ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE, reprising her role as Bubble, the goofy sidekick of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.
As always the amicable Jane signed my sketch at the stage door on her way into a Saturday matinee a few weeks ago.
Welsh actor Rhys Ifans returned to the London stage as the Fool in KING LEAR, which finished its run at the Old Vic last week. The production marked the theatrical comeback after 25 years of Glenda Jackson in the lead role. Although he had established himself with an extensive acting CV, Rhys became a global name as Hugh Grant’s lodger Spike in the 1999 film NOTTING HILL His scheming clown in LEAR received critical acclaim with the Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish writing, “Definite highlights include Rhys Ifans as an anarchic Fool, in a Superman cape, donning a scary clown mask and sleeping out the storm in shopping trolley.” Rhys has already gone in by the time I got to the stage door, but popped out for a quite ciggy and a siggy on my sketch.
“Glenda Jackson’s performance will be talked about for years,” wrote Dominic Cavendish in his Telegraph review of Deborah Warner’s star-studded modern-dress production of KING LEAR, which has just completed it’s short run at London’s Old Vic. Twenty-five years after her last stage performance as Christine in Eugene O’Neill’s MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA at the Glasgow Citizens, the 80 year-old, two-time Oscar winner made a ‘triumphant return to the stage’ with a “ferocious, unflinching performance that transcends gender and puts her amongst the best Lears,” proclaimed the Guardian’s Michael Billington.
In 1992 she became the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, winning four successive elections before retiring at the last election. It was suggested by more than one critic that her experience of political life and the injustices in the world enriched her understanding Lear. “Where does all her energy come from? Or that voice, which can blast out with a force to induce shockwaves? She is so pale, so spectre-thin with an androgynous crop of lankish hair… her neck pushes forward in vein-accentuating confrontation” continued the Guardian critic. Glenda was a little more subdued, thank goodness, at the stage door when she arrived for a Saturday matinee a couple of weeks ago and signed my drawing.
My wife and I have a Bard tradition of celebrating our wedding anniversary with a touch of Shakespeare. It can be one of his plays or a production that includes or is based on his work. This year we popped along to Sean Foley’s acclaimed revival of Ronald Harwood’s tragicomedy THE DRESSER at the Duke of York’s in London. The brilliant Scottish and Olivier Award winning actor Ken Stott is ‘Sir’, a fading ham actor who rolls through the regions during the second World War ‘giving’ his Lear, Othello and Richard III to the people. Like the Shakespearean monarch, he is in decline as his longtime and long suffering dresser Norman, wonderfully played by Reece Shearsmith, tries to get him through the evening’s performance of KING LEAR. Both Ken and Reece signed a sketch I did of them together. This one is Ken as Lear, which he graphed for me last night at the stage door.
One of my favourite films is SHINE in which Geoffrey Rush won a truck-load of awards, including the Academy Award for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott in 1997. He’s one of the few people to have collected the ‘Triple Crown of Acting’ – an Oscar, Emmy and a Tony – covering the big screen, small screen and the stage’s highest accolades. But, Geoffrey was in no rush (sorry) to take to the big screen. A ‘late bloomer’ who was 44 before embarking on his movie career. He’s has made up for it since. “I’m a stage actor, I was rolling along in theatre and having a good time. Movies was not where I was heading”. Then his career turned a sudden corner with SHINE and, as he put it, “over indulged in cinema” and dropped out of theatre for a decade.
That all changed after a chance meeting with celebrated British director Stephen Daldry, who rekindled his theatrical roots. Having played the Fool twice in a 30 year journey with Shakespeare’s KING LEAR, Geoffrey finally takes on the title role in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production directed by long-time friend and collaborator Neil Armfield. It is “the greatest play in the English language, certainly Shakespeare’s greatest achievement,” Geoffrey said.
“Capturing characters whose estimation of themselves is completely out of step with reality is Rush’s metier. He does good self-delusion, particularly because he has within his Arsenal the vulnerability and anguish of someone when their delusions are punctured,” wrote Dee Jefferson in TimeOut.
I did this montage of Geoffrey expressing Lear’s pathos as the ‘wonderfully pathetic ex-King,” and mailed it to him in Australia. I noticed that there is my namesake, another ‘Mark Winter’ in the cast. Mark Leonard Winter plays Edgar, described in Dee’s four-star review as ” thrillingly on the verge… who appears to have gone mad in the process of going mad,” – a state I am familiar with, collecting signed sketches has its drawbacks. Maybe Geoffrey thought it was his fellow thespian, taking up his 4B pencil in a moment of admiration and gladly complied with the signing request, before realising that it was the ‘other’ Mark Winter. Returning it to the UK may have been a giveaway. Maybe not.
KING LEAR finishes tomorrow at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney.
Simon Russell Beale is not only a great stage actor and an extremely pleasant chap to meet, he’s a brilliant subject to draw. Hence the frequency of my sketches of the man considered by many to be the best actor of his generation. This is in fact my second study of Simon as KING LEAR when he took to the vast Olivier stage at the National last Autumn in the exceptional Sam Mendes-directed production. This was the seventh Shakespearian collaboration for the actor-director combination. Jasper Kees commented in his article for The Telegraph that when classical actors play HAMLET , a clock starts ticking down to his LEAR with a decent hiatus in between. He lists such notables as Ian McKellen, with a 36 year gap, 32 for Jonathan Pryce and 31 for Derek Jacobi. For 52 year-old Simon it was 14 years and if it wasn’t for Sam’s commitment to SKYFALL and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY the gap would have been a lot less. however that hypothesis flies out the window when it was revealled that this is not Simon’s first LEAR. Oh no, he played the tragic monarch as a 17 year-old while still at Clifton College, so it’s a 35 year gap between LEARs for him, punctuated with a HAMLET.
That aside, I caught up with Simon to sign my sketch at the Donmar Warehouse after a Saturday evenings performance of TEMPLE in which he currently plays the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Steve Water’s new play inspired by the London Occupy Movement and the events surrounding the hallowed venue in October 2011. As usual he was very gracious and happily signed this version of LEAR, remembering the zillions of others he had also graphed.
Seasoned British actor Timothy West, noted for his great power and command on the classical stage, has played King Lear three times. The latest was in 2003 for English Touring Theatre on a UK tour and at the Old Vic in London.
The Stephen Unwin directed production toured for three months in autumn 2002 to great acclaim, winning West a Manchester Evening News Award for Best Actor. His moving portrayal of the fallen king at the Old Vic received rave reviews and bought in the crowds, extending the season less than a week after the play opened.
Timothy has played other roles in the Shakespearean masterpiece, including Gloucester to Ian Holm’s moanch ain the National Theatre’s 1997 production, directed by Richard Eyre, that was also filmed for the BBC.
I caught up with Timothy as he left the Donmar Warehouse last night, where he is part of a huge ensemble cast for Josie Rourke‘s The Vote. I showed him my sketch of him as Lear asking him if he wouldn’t mind signing it, and he smiled, saying, of course and duly ‘graphed it.
I finally got the brilliant John Lithgow to sign a sketch for me.
The New York-born 69 year-old has appeared in more than 30 films, with two Oscar nominations and an equally impressive television list that includes the Emmy-award winning 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN and DEXTER.
John’s distinguished stage career has spanned over four decades on both sides of the Atlantic. His 1973 Broadway debut in David Storey’s THE CHANGING ROOM earned him the Tony and Drama Desk Awards. He won his second Tony for his portrayal of J.J Hunsecker in the Broadway adaption of the 1957 film SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS in 2002.
During the winter of 2012/13 John crossed the ditch to appear on the London stage as the title character, police magistrate Aeneas Posket in the National Theatre’s revival of Arthur Pinero’s THE MAGISTRATE. I was lucky enough to catch a saturday matinee.
The following summer he retuned to New York and the Delacorte stage in Central Park’s Public Theatre’s production of KING LEAR, where he last appeared in 1975 in the role of Laertes in HAMLET. John listed playing ‘Lear’ at the top of his bucket list..”so there’s an empty space there now.” he quipped.
When asked what he disliked most about his appearance, John replied, “I have a love/hate relationship with my height-I am 6 foot 4 inches.”
John signed this sketch depicting his stage appearances in THE MAGISTRATE and KING LEAR at the John Golden Theatre in New York where he has just finished the limited season of Edward Albee’s A DELICATE BALANCE alongside Glenn Close. He actually dedicated it ‘To Mark’,but my letter must have been under the drawing because the inscription was written on the top of it with the most important sig on the sketch.
Sam Mendes astonishing and absorbing production of King Lear at London’s National Theatre last summer included Anna Maxwell Martin playing the mad King’s eldest daughter with Simon Russell Beale in title role.
Lloyd Evans in The Spectator summed up the critics’ reviews, “There are outstanding performances from Anna Maxwell Martin, whose Regan is a hysterical sex freak turned on by torture.”
Anna has won two BAFTA awards, the first for her portrayal of Esther Summerson, the central character in the 2005 BBC adaption of Charles Dicken’s Bleak House. Her second was for playing ‘N’, a long-term mentally ill patient in Poppy Shakespeare three years later.
She was also nominated in 2011 for her role as Sarah Burton in South Riding.