Review of “King Lear” – Duke of York Theatre, Saturday 29th September 2018.

Image result for duke of yorks king lear

“Furious tempests rise above the seas and sweep over nations. The winds howl and waters rise. Above the maelstrom we hear the cries of vain patriarchs and scheming children. Great armies stand ready to make war. Blind warriors stumble in the encroaching gloom. Greed and overweening ambition proliferate. Wise men are derided as fools and kingdoms tremble on the cusp of dissolution. Welcome to the 21st Century and ‘the time’s plague, when madmen lead the blind'”.

– Excerpt from Fergal Keane’s piece “King Lear and Our Age of Uncertainty”
featured in the official programme.

I know that normally this is where I write poetry. However, after ticking off one of my lifelong dreams last Saturday, I felt compelled to write about it. I saw one of my theatrical heroes, Sir Ian McKellen, live on stage, in the title role in King Lear. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a professional theatre critic (this, I’m sure, will be glaringly apparent to anyone who reads this). I’m just a theatre-geek with a longing to experience those moments on stage that give you that bittersweet lump in your throat. Those moments that leave you wanting to talk of nothing else all night, yet at the same time, you’re transfixed in a hazy wave of speechlessness. I’ve had nearly a week now to process the performance, and I can’t tell you if that is enough time, but I’ve got some things to say.

I fell in love with Ian McKellen when I was 7 year old, after seeing him portray the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Ever since then, I’ve followed his works and admired him from afar. It was only in the past 3 years I was given the opportunity to closer examine his works, when he popped up during my University studies. In our first year, we studied McKellen in ‘Waiting For Godot’, and in my second year we studied him in Lear. He was then somewhat closely linked to my decision to write my dissertation on an aspect of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as he was one of the first visual images that helped shape and mould my love for all things Tolkien.

I digress, yet again I have managed to steer the conversation onto Tolkien, but that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to talk about my experience of “King Lear”, last Saturday, at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

The lights fade, and I’m not ashamed to say, my eyes are already filling with a tear or two, at the mere thought of being this close to one of my heroes. The rest of the company sing, as Lear is guided onto the stage. Behind them, a large painting of Lear, crowned and embellished. It was a moment of duplicity, as both audience and cast, were calling to the stage, a true King. The majesty and regalia that was laid upon Lear’s entrance, was extended to Sir Ian, as it seemed an entrance fit for both King and actor.

An interesting mix of Pagan-like worship at the start, with comical displays of religious signalling and prayer. Later, a somewhat too familiar note of political pompousness fills the court of the stage. Act 1 Scene 4 plays out like the after-party at a Conservative Party conference. Tweed, shotguns, and an air of seniority exudes from the stage as Lear takes command of his rowdy rabble of Farage-esque servants. Good theatre, of course, never falters away from the opportunity to hold a mirror up to its audience. This production was no exception, and was unforgiving and unapologetic, in its portrayal of our politically-turbulent times. As Keane rightly states, it ‘powerfully resonates the present tense of raging hurricanes, the dysfunctional Trump family presidency, Brexit, and nuclear stand-off in the Pacific’.

As Lear’s madness infiltrates the stage, and his inability to see the issues at hand becomes more apparent, you cannot help but think of modern farcical characters as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Trump, etc. A connection that became most explicit later on, in Act 4 Scene 6: “Get thee glass eyes, And like a scurvy politician seem, To see the things thou dost not”. A poignant and resonant point, however the perfect delivery resulted in ample laughter from the audience.

Other modern productions I have seen of King Lear have undoubtedly been humorous, but never in the ways that Munby’s production managed to be. Elements of comedy were created from most members of the cast, in places I have never seen comedy injected before. James Corrigan’s portrayal of the villainous Edmund, was quite unlike anything I’d seen attempted in Lear before. The character and the way he played him was reminiscent of the now familiar crime-drama-villain, that modern audiences have come to know and love. I couldn’t help but think of Andrew Scott’s Moriarty in Sherlock, Joseph’s Fiennes Commander in The Handmaid’s Tale, and perhaps more fittingly, Kenneth Branagh’s Iago in Othello. Masterfully done, in a way that made me almost love him too much. I wouldn’t go as far as to say he had me on side, or that I was rooting for him, but Corrigan’s Edmund added an urgency to the stage that left me wanting more.

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Photo credit: John Persson.

Another portrayal that really stayed with me was Lloyd Hutchinson’s Fool. It seemed to me, fashioned on a strange yet appealing hybrid of George Fornby (helped along of course with the inclusion of instrumental comedy) and Ronnie Corbett.

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I’ve always loved the Fool as I feel it gives so much opportunity, for cast, audience, and artistic directors alike. I found the choice to include a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them seconds of Edmund approaching the Fool with a knife, just as the curtain dropped for the interval, extremely apt and innovative. So much so, that I was hoping for a little follow-up on that! Apart from the often ambiguous line at the finale “My poor fool is hang’d”, I received no closure on that. Then again, this is exactly why I love seeing how different directors and casts interpret the Fool. However, on this occasion, I appreciate the need to perhaps leave this one hanging (no pun intended).

It is quite clear that I am an obvious fan of Sir Ian McKellen and admit that some people may feel this review is biased because of that. However, I truly believe that this production proved that this was a part that Sir Ian simply had to play. McKellen has had a long-term affiliation with the play, due to his numerous appearances in it, albeit as various characters. He writes himself, that ‘perhaps it’s the closer you get to the King’s age, the more telling it becomes’, and whether you subscribe to this philosophy, McKellen’s portrayal certainly makes it believable on stage. He continues to test the emotional range of his audiences. His tenderness in moments of anguish, his palpable frustration at his own wavering psyche, his sharp, cutting, harsh yet comical timing at his vicious quips, is beyond an art.

Image result for king lear ian mckellen duke of york
photo credit: Manuel Harlan

I’ve read some reviews that take a less favourable view on the “stuffiness” of the stage, yet I disagree. Munby’s vision included cinematic elements, strobe lights, sound effects, even occasional slow-motion dance-like sequences to show battle scenes, which I felt suitably fitted with the modern warfare theme that was bubbling under the surface throughout. I felt that there was a fair balance between these cinematic moments (which perhaps are becoming increasingly necessary to appeal to the majority of modern audiences), and moments of genuine “traditional” (though, I must admit I find this notion problematic!) theatre. It didn’t feel ‘too much’, it felt just right.

Overall, Munby’s production was an utter triumph. Amongst those I have already mentioned, Cusack’s compassionate and committed Kent, Bushell’s childlike yet menacing Regan, Thompson’s twitching and erratic Edgar, and Webb’s staunched yet vulnerable Gloucester, all merged together to create an unforgettable, unapologetic, and unforgiving performance of a play, that continues to speak volumes to young and old audiences alike. On the train home, those last lines of King Lear lingered, ever thought-provoking, almost uncomfortably so:

“The weight of this sad time we must obey.
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most. We that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

(Act 5, Scene 3)

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Smells Like Teen Inhibition.

It’s National Poetry Day! To celebrate here is one of my new poems.

Smells Like Teen Inhibition.

I’m getting up earlier and going to bed later

Maybe I don’t even sleep
But I don’t fucking remember
Am I forgetting to eat
Or does everything I taste become so bland that I forget it the moment it’s gone
Do I still clean my body
Do I still brush my teeth
Do I still gaze at the stars
Or am I stuck staring at my feet
My dirty feet
That are stuck in the ground
Or maybe they still get around
I’ve just forgotten
Forgotten what it’s like to get up and be excited
I’m saying hello to people less
And deflecting questions even more
How you been? How’s your mum? What’s for dinner? What’s the score?

I’m in Valhalla, I’m in hell,

I’ve reached Nirvana and it smells like Mordor

I’m Harry Potter without the scar
I’ve got the key to the castle but I live that little bit too far
Away, away…
I know the password but I just cannot say
The words
When my dinner is served I cut it into thirds
One third each for the parts of me I miss
The part of me you used to kiss
Gets one
The part of me once loved
Now gone
And the third part goes to just about anyone
Except you
You get nothing
And no one gets you

 

This body of yours.

Here is a new a poem I have written for an upcoming gig. The gig is something I’m really excited about. It’s going to happen during the SPILL festival, being made possible by the fantastic Amy at GetOnTheSoapbox Events, have a little Facebook search for the event at: “GetOnTheSoapBox: Tell Me Again Why We Don’t Need Feminism”, if you want some further information.

So, in preparation for this upcoming event I’ve had to get my poetic juices flowing again and here’s one that I think is finished (or at least as finished as any of my poems end up being).

I’ve written it in response to the crisis of body image that many people, in all circumstances, can and often do face. I know I’ve had my fair share of issues on this subject, most notably the eating disorder I experienced during my late teens/early adolescence. Whilst I am now a physically-healthy weight, there are still negative thoughts that flicker across my mind – sometimes I listen, sometimes I do not. I’m not saying I am 100% happy with myself all the time, but I’m starting to give myself a bit more credit, and a bit more love.

You may hate your flabby arms, your skinny legs, your scars, your freckles, your disabilities, your eyes that don’t work, your organs that don’t work, the list is endless depending on who you are speaking to – this poem urges its readers to stop focusing on what you do not have and cannot do, but instead focus on what you are capable of, and what possibilities may be open to you.

Enjoy.

‘This body of yours’

This body of yours is beautiful.
This body of yours,
standing five foot four,
or maybe more,
that takes punch after punch as if it were nothing at all.
This body stands tall.
This body of yours is beautiful.

This body can create life through mingling with another
This body of yours becomes my lover.
Smother me,
with the pillow of your body.
This body is my bed and my mother and your widow.
This body of yours is beautiful.

This body of yours means chance.
This body speaks without words through the strength of its stance.
This body is circumstance. This body of yours is beautiful. This body will grow and shrink and make others think,
This body may be surprised by the amount that you drink,
but this body will forgive you.
This body of yours is beautiful.

This body will stretch and bend and can help you mend
by extending an arm to the body of your friends.
This body of yours is beautiful.

This body of yours is more than hair and skin and bones and nails,
and what this body entails,
cannot be measured by a number on a scale. This body of yours is beautiful.

This body of yours can knock on doors,
and if this body of yours falls on all fours,
then this body will come back fighting for more.
This body of yours is beautiful.

And although this body of yours may fade in time,
This body of yours is beautiful,
and so is this body of mine.

An Inconvenient Anxiety.

It’s World Bipolar Day today, or so Twitter tells me.
Here’s a poem.

 

I want to do something new that excites me.
But, when I try and think of what that might be
I’m stopped by an inconvenient anxiety.
I’m anxious to not let life pass me by
But when I think of the things that I want to try
My life’s sent the message, but my brain doesn’t reply.
It’s those around me taking the plunge
Meanwhile, I’m home and dry.
Life’s boring.
Mine’s unimportant.
I should be doing something else
instead of loading the next Netflix installment.
Brain aching.
Body shaking.
And everyone around is unconvinced
by the tracing paper smile that I’m faking.
I wouldn’t describe myself as anxious
but the general consensus
among the nexus
of family and friends
that I’m still lucky enough to possess
would be that I am.
I act the laid-back flake.
Always game to participate,
Always ready to intimidate,
or imitate,
one of your mates,
But then, I’m home.
And I’m alone.
And the booze has run dry and the drugs are all gone.
And I’m just me again.
Me on my own
Going through last night’s pictures on my phone
Scraping dust from my grinder to get a little bit stoned
Enough so I can fall asleep
And count the sheep
Then slowly together my eyelids creep
and it’s two minutes later and my alarm, it beeps.
Here’s the morning, indiscreet.
As ever, the sun glares at me
through the supposed safety of my sheets.
It teases me
It chases me
to get outta bed and drink that same cup of tea
I always drink.
Without time to think
about how each day’s the same
and each day pushes me closer to the brink.
Now, in let that sink.

There it is again
that same old trend
that plays me round and round the bend
and never does it fucking end

A broken record in my head,
to play each day until I am dead.

Ingredients.

I am made of thunder.
Bolts and nuts,
and all the chunks,
of my ancestors.
I am made of polyester.
I am made of sun rays,
and I am made of bread.
I am made up of all the insults,
the ones you never said.
I am made of beer
and I am made of wine.
I am made from all the prickles
found on the back of a porcupine.
I am made of leather,
I am made of lead,
I am made of the women before me,
the ones both alive and dead.
I am made of purpose,
and the thoughts you dare not speak.
I am made of cucumbers,
the leftover mouldy ones from last week.
I am made of raging hormones
and I am made of dust.
I made of nervous laughter
and of misplaced lust.
I made of sin.
I am made of dirt.
I am made from all the tears,
cried by those you’ve hurt.
I am made of wires
I am made of tea.
I am made of so many things,
but I don’t know what makes me.

 

Wishlist.

I don’t remember writing this poem, but it found it’s way onto my draft messages on my phone (where most of my poems are born). I guess I was inebriated. Whatever was going on, I suppose I felt the need to write this down. So I did. Enjoy, it’s called Wishlist.

Wishlist.

I want to eat ice cream with you in the morning at a quarter to three.
I want to steal the covers
and I want you to let me.
I want to get a dog together
and raise it the proper way.
I want it to be my birthday every single day.
I want to finish that poem
and I want it to be good.
I want you to keep your promise, the one you promised you would.
I want to wear the right clothes at the right time and never be too hot or too cold ever again.
I want to play the piano without having to learn how to play the piano.
I want to eat pastry without putting on weight.
I want to get the best grades
and I want to be cool.
I want to leave my clothes on and jump into a heated swimming pool.
I want to lay on the sofa in my pants watching telly, eating crisps on a Wednesday lunchtime.
I want to finish that poem and I want it to rhyme.
I want to know what you’re thinking
and I want to get better
I want a Staffy, and a Dalmatian and a well-behaved Irish Setter.
I want to drink wine for breakfast and eat cereal for dinner.
I want to buy a scratchcard and it reveal that I’m a winner.
I want every poem I have ever written to be received in exactly the way it was intended.
I want everyone to have a nice time, even those friends that I unfriended.
I want to finish this poem with a sentiment that stays with those that hear it
but I’ve run out of ideas and all I’ve got left is bullshit.

Credentials.

I wrote this poem after a “Careers Workshop” at my University. I didn’t quite know how to feel after approximately 30 minutes of questioning surrounding “what are my employable qualities?” paired with “Any experience for this role?”, or indeed “what makes me different from other candidates?” whilst simultaneously displaying a demeanor that reeked of nicely-fitting-in-and-being-a-yes-man. Ho-hum.

So, I didn’t write a CV out of it. I wrote this.
It’s called Credentials.

I got a 1st in Worry from the University of Panic.
I got straight A’s in Anxiety.
Special Achievement Award for when I’m suitably manic,
as for my depression,
much has been said for my ability.
Oh, and I’m top of the class for irritability.
I’ve got certificates in stress.
And the medals in my cupboard are for the countless
episodes where I’ve become
an emotional mess.
I’m No. 1 at overthinking.
I’m unsurpassed at second-guessing
and not being able to see the good in things
is simply what I’m best in.
I’m a fine student of chaos
in the field of disorder.
My brain is the ring
and I’m taking it to Mordor.
I’ve got trophies for uncertainty
and a grant for my fears.
I’ve gained a lifetime of troubles
in only 23 short years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘We met at the dog park’

So I’ve got this friend called Kay. It was her birthday on the 31st October and I wrote her this poem.

Then I thought I’d have a bit of fun and instead of writing it down for her, I’d plant a note with a Youtube URL on it inside one of her presents. It’s a video of me reciting the poem I wrote for her.

It’s the first poem I’ve ever recorded myself reading (and I learnt it off by heart!) and it took so many takes that this was the first one I did without making a mistake so, yeah.

Enjoy.

 

4 + 2 = 1.

I wrote this poem for the most loyal, most-legged, hairiest, smelliest and most affectionate being in my life. Fletcher. It’s called ‘4+2=1’.

To him my voice is mute.
Unless of course, he’s being all cute
getting rewards and attention
for simply not being a brute.

But I love him like he’s my child
and for us childless wonders
who can sleep in til 9 or 1018619995_10155318474800477_1972283233689306115_n
getting up whenever we want
or maybe not even then.
He’s the world.

My world on a lead.
A four legged dream.
Insubordinate and rude
but we’re still a team.

 

Together since 8 weeks old
and the stories I was told
Trying to change my mind
But one look at you, and boy,
I was sold.

 
You’re my fur covered mate,
my night and my day.
You’re the reason I’m late
and the reason I can’t stay.

But coming home to you,
is never a chore.
And the look on your face
when I walk through the door…
it’s just love.
Unconditional, relentless, unapologetic
love.

And it hurts to remember
that your life’s not long enough.
But when push comes to shove
I just have to think of
The far too few years you’ve spent with me
are more special to me
than all of China’s tea.

So let’s go to the park
before it’s too late.
And when you catch the ball
I’ll promise to celebrate
like it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen!
If we do everything right you might make it to fifteen.

I can’t promise you’ll be my only one
I got hooked because of you
But you’ll always be my first,
and that will always be true.