Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1954 play, translated by Frank Hauser, is based on Alexandre Dumas pere’s original, written in 1826 shortly after Kean had died. Born in 1787, Kean made his Theatre Royal Drury Lane debut in 1814, his performance as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice rousing the enthusiastic crowds to near-rioting. His many other Shakespearean roles at the same address – including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear - were legendary. According to Coleridge, seeing the diminutive Kean act “was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning”.
However, Kean’s private life of drinking, gambling and womanising took its toll on his talent. His last stage appearance, at Covent Garden, was on 25 March 1833, playing Othello to his son Charles Kean’s Iago. He broke down during the third act, crying “O God, I am dying” and passed away two months later.
South African-born Sher is best known for his own classical performances, many of them for the Royal Shakespeare Company, including The Winter's Tale, Cyrano de Bergerac, Richard III, Stanley, King Lear, The Roman Actor, The Malcontent and Othello. He was last seen on stage in another portrait of a real-life man, 2004’s Primo, which he wrote himself based on the memoirs of Primo Levi. After its premiere at the National, it ran at Hampstead Theatre and transferred to New York. Sher made his directing debut at the RSC with Fraser Grace’s Breakfast with Mugabe, which transferred to the West End last summer.
Sher is joined in the cast of Kean by Sam Kelly, Joanne Pearce, Jane Murphy, Oliver Beamish and Alex Avery. The production is directed by former RSC artistic director Adrian Noble, designed by Mark Thompson and produced by Thelma Holt.
The next production scheduled for the Apollo is Satisfaction, Danish choreographer Peter Schaufuss’ ballet set to the greatest hits of the Rolling Stones, which has a limited season from 29 August (preview 28 August) to 8 September (See News, 4 Jun 2007).
- by Terri Paddock