The original 3 April press performance for King Lear was cancelled at short notice when leading lady Frances Barber (Goneril in the Shakespeare, Madam Arkadina in the Chekhov) was injured in a cycling accident. It was subsequently rescheduled for last week, on the same day as King Lear’s (See News, 10 Apr 2007).
However, given that the Stratford run had already sold out and a November transfer to the West End secured prior to the press performances (See News, 30 May 2007), the critics’ verdicts seem almost an afterthought (a point not missed by some, most notably Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph) – and a mixed one at that.
In the Shakespeare tragedy, critics were divided both about the production overall – described as one that’s “largely satisfying” but “does not storm the heavens” - and McKellen’s performance in the doomed title role – either “majestic” or a “fascinating disappointment”. The Seagull received a warmer reception. But, as the third production of the Chekhov classic in a matter of months from one of the UK’s flagship theatres, following Katie Mitchell’s National Theatre production in the autumn and Ian Rickson’s starry offering at the Royal Court earlier this year, comparisons were inevitably drawn. Nunn’s was judged as largely superior to the former but inferior to the latter - “a Seagull to enjoy even if it offers few startling new insights into Chekhov's masterpiece”.
In addition to Barber and McKellen, who plays the title role in King Lear and shares the role of Sorin with William Gaunt in The Seagull, the company features: Romola Garai, Sylvester McCoy, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Hyde and Ben Meyjes. The productions, designed by Christopher Oram, run in rep in Stratford until 23 June 2007, then tour to Newcastle (29 June–7 July), Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the US, before transferring to the West End’s New London theatre for a limited season from 12 November (See News, 30 May 2007).
- by Malcolm Rock