Posts Tagged ‘Derek Jacobi’

Derek Jacobi as King Lear, Richmond Theatre, April 2011

3 April, 2011

From the first moments of irascible folly to the final moments of grief as he cradles the body of his dearest Cordelia, Derek Jacobi’s Lear came alive on stage in a way that made this relatively long play seem to race past in no time.

The production by Michael Grandage, touring from the Donmar, uses an almost bare stage to concentrate our minds on the characters and their interactions. Christopher Oram’s set of tall slats making an open box of the stage emphasised the immense proportion of the drama in which each character is in one way or another a victim. Wonderful lighting  design by Neil Austin — I loved the silhouettes as Lear is seated to await his meeting with Cordelia — and a terrific soundscape by Adam Cork helped bring atmosphere without ever overpowering the action. The heralding of the storm by lighting and sound created a sense of bleakness that moved the play forward to the next stage without losing any of the tension between Lear and his nasty elder daughters.

These ladies were coolly and cleverly played by Gina McKee as Goneril, and Justine Mitchell as Regan. When Regan puts Lear’s old servant in the stocks, and even more when her husband gouges out Gloucester’s eyes, Ms. Mitchell combined elegant beauty with cool sadism — superb acting. The third sister, Cordelia, was beautifully played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, and her dark skin colour compared to her two sisters suggested a Cinderella-like fiction that her sisters are step-sisters. In fact there is a Jewish story about a man who asked his three daughters to declare their love for him, and while the first two say they love him “as much as diamonds”, and “as much as gold and silver”, the third one declares she loves him “the way meat loves salt”. He throws her out, she becomes a servant and the Cinderella part of the story starts.

This more complicated story was beautifully acted by the whole cast. Tom Beard as Albany was calmly authoritative as he faced down Alec Newman’s Edmund at the end, and Newman himself showed nefarious intent throughout the play by his body language, making me wonder that the other characters did not see through it and look beyond his words. Paul Jesson was a wonderfully sympathetic Gloucester, but it was Jacobi’s Lear that overwhelmed my sympathies, and made this a truly great performance.

This Donmar production has already been to Glasgow, Milton Keynes and the Lowry, Salford. After Richmond its tour continues to the Theatre Royal at Bath, April 5–9; and Hall for Cornwall in Truro, April 12–16.

The King’s Speech, Movie in Cinemas in the UK and USA, January 2011

9 January, 2011

On 6th February 1952, King George VI died in his sleep, aged 56. His daughter Elizabeth flew back to the UK from Kenya to become Queen Elizabeth II. Though I was a child at the time, I remember dreaming one night that my Dad and I went to the palace to help the king. Surely that means that he was a good man, perhaps even a noble man. Someone to be respected, not because of his office but because of who he really was.

Colin Firth as George VI

George VI, sovereign of the British Empire, had never wanted such an august position. In fact he detested the idea of becoming king, as this wonderful movie makes abundantly clear. He was a shy man, son of a cold mother and strict father, and brother to a weak man with a nasty streak, who abdicated the role of king in less than a year. The first name of George VI was Albert and his family called him Bertie. His brother — known as David — wanted to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, who would have made a most unsuitable queen, but more to the point, David himself would have made an unsuitable king, beholden as he was to Hitler. This was 1936, when the old sovereign George V died and his eldest son David took the throne as Edward VIII. It’s doubtful that any future monarch will ever be named Edward, after this poor man’s failure to live up to his role. Instead his brother had to take over in December 1936, and in a little over three years later, in May 1940, Churchill took over the post of prime minister.

Events beyond 1939 are not part of this movie. It leads up to the king’s speech at the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939. This live radio broadcast was a serious problem for a man with an appalling stutter who was uncomfortable with grand occasions. His first great public speech to the British Empire Exhibition in 1925 had been a sore trial for both himself and his listeners. After it was over his wife finally went off the beaten track to find an unusual speech therapist who might actually be able to help him. This may not sound like the stuff of a great movie, but somehow it manages to create a sense of tension and fear while fully eliciting our sympathies. The speech therapist, Lionel Logue had offices in Harley Street, and though he was not a real doctor he was no fraud. He lacked paper qualifications but had experience, and according to this story more than a nodding acquaintance with psychiatry. In any case he gave the king the wherewithal to speak to his subjects, and the king in turn gave him the title of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, conferring a well-deserved legitimacy on this unusual man, who became and remained a lifelong friend.

Edward VIII stamp

The rest as they say is history. The king’s daughter has been queen for nearly sixty years, and her diamond jubilee beckons in 2012. His brother passed into obscurity, and eventually death in 1972. No coins of this unworthy monarch were circulated in Britain. Those of 1936 all showed the head of George V, and those of 1937 showed George VI. Patterns for Edward VIII coins in Britain were made but not issued, though postage stamps bearing his image appeared in 1936.

This remarkable film directed by Tom Hooper brings an almost forgotten past to life. Its success must surely owe something to the fact that so many of us find aspects of our own pasts painful to overcome. Any left-handed person who has been forced to write with their right hand will surely feel great sympathy with the king who suffered a similar fate. His role was brilliantly played by Colin Firth, and Lionel Logue was superbly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush. Helena Bonham Carter was wonderfully sympathetic as the king’s wife Elizabeth, later to become the Queen Mother from 1952 until her death fifty years later, and Derek Jacobi was eminently dislikeable as the fastidiously correct Archbishop of Canterbury. The whole cast was superb, and the script by David Seidler was grippingly restrained. For those who want more, a book published in 2010 by Peter Conradi and Mark Logue (grandson to Lionel) gives the story up until the death of the king, and the death of Logue a year later, shortly before the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

But this movie focuses on one thing and in doing so, and doing it so well, carries us on a wave of vitally important history, seen from the inside. Watching it was a truly moving experience.