Tickets for the limited season to 12 January 2008 at the West End’s New London Theatre – where it runs in repertory with Nunn’s cross-cast production of Chekhov’s The Seagull, opened to the press the night before – sold out long ago and are now only available via ticket touts and ebay.
First announced more than two years ago, the McKellen-Nunn King Lear was scheduled as the ultimate production for the year-long Complete Works Festival at the RSC, where Nunn was previously artistic director. However, its April opening was derailed when actress Frances Barber, who plays Goneril (and Arkadina in the Chekhov), was injured in a cycling accident (See News, 10 Apr 2007). Though its press performance delay to 31 May displeased critics at the time, it did nothing to diminish audience enthusiasm and demand for tickets.
McKellen plays the title role in King Lear and shares the role of Sorin with William Gaunt (Gloucester in the Shakespeare play) in The Seagull. The company also features: Romola Garai, Sylvester McCoy, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Hyde and Ben Meyjes.
First night critics were left amazed at Nunn’s “undoubtedly impressive” production, not least because of McKellen’s success in portraying the troubled King “with clarity and intelligence” as well as showing the character’s “emotional vulnerability”. However, critics also acknowledged that the production is no star vehicle alone, but ultimately the collective triumph of a talented ensemble that now “works like a well-tempered machine”. Amongst the supporting performances of note were Sylvester McCoy’s “beautiful” but “bumbling” Fool, Romola Garai's “highly affecting” Cordelia, Frances Barber “husky, hissing” Goneril and Jonathan Hyde’s “excellent” Kent.
- by Tom Atkins