Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Jacobian Lear - mark your calendars

Sir Derek Jacobi, The Wall Street Journal said in a review Friday, is now treading the boards in London in "the finest performance of Lear we are likely to see for some time."

And it's not just the WSJ who are waxing rhapsodic. Jacobi's King Lear (directed by Michael Grandage) has been widely hailed as one of the great (legendary?) Shakespearean performances of the present day.

The Daily Express calls it, "An evening of greatness" and "one of the most remarkable performances of the past decade," while The Daily Telegraph called this production "A Lear to rank with the greatest."

In a separate article The Telegraph also reminds its readers where Jacobi stands on a related matter: "Sir Derek Jacobi doesn't believe Shakespeare wrote 'King Lear' - but he's still given one of the greatest performances in the role."

That Jacobi is an Oxfordian and patron of the De Vere Society (UK) doesn't appear to merit mention. But the legendary actor's apostasy may indeed not be irrelevant to his clearly penetrating insights into Lear's psyche.

The Evening Standard's critic extols Jacobi's "exaggerated pomp, wounded majesty, paternal indignation and, as his tyranny turns to self-knowledge, a blighted, ordinary humanity." While the Independent says, simply, Jacobi's Lear comes off like a "coward and a poet."

The downward spiral of Edward de Vere's life tracks Lear like a phantom horseman -- from de Vere's disbursement of his ancestral castle amongst his three daughters (from his first marriage) to his bastard and legitimate sons (the latter from his second marriage) that clearly inform the portrayal of the play's Earl of Gloucester.

And if I didn't know any better, the "pomp, indignation, tyranny" and "coward" quotes above might seem to be a slanderous summary of de Vere's life, as portrayed by contemporary libelers (such as Charles Arundel) or current-day ones (such as Alan Nelson).

If you can get thee to London's Donmar Warehouse before Feb. 5 (or to the locations of its UK tour through April 9), then please let readers know what you thought in the comments section here.

For the rest of us, though, there's good news: In February, select cinemas around the world will be screening Jacobi's Lear as part of the National Theatre Live project. (See the link for details on venues and screening dates near you.)

Last month Jacobi, 72, told The Guardian:

"The pressures are much bigger now," Jacobi said. "There was a lovely actress called Dorothy Tutin and she always said that there were three categories of actor. The first one was 'young and talented,' which is a great category to be in. You've got youth on your side, and you're the rank outsider in the race. You've got everything to play for, nothing to lose. Then you become, if you're lucky, 'experienced and successful.' You've got work, you're making a living, and you're also getting wonderful experience. And then there's the last one, which is 'distinguished and acclaimed.' And that's where the pressure is. Now you're the favourite in the race, you have to win or come a good second. Now people are putting money on you to win."

As the Guardian's critic concluded, "I think this Lear may turn out to have been worth the wait."

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