Hearing King Lear – with National Theatre Live

The National Theatre Live screening of Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear is not to be missed if you’re studying it at school and certainly not if you just love anything to do with this 16th Century literary genius. It is showing (in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and at Ster-Kinekor Blue Route Mall in Tokai) on 14, 15, 18 and 19 June only.

It goes without saying that Shakespeare was meant to be performed. Not read. But it’s worth reiterating. During my school days we watched one of Shakespeare’s plays on film. Another one was accompanied by a voice over. For the rest it was reading. And that was difficult.

Watching a play being performed brings it to life and helps the viewer understand this writer’s often inaccessible old English. The inflections, the pauses, the tone of voice, facial expressions and movement of the actors all communicate and help the viewer/listener understand and therefore appreciate the words.

I had never read (or watched!) King Lear so this production was a superb introduction. Whilst the language is true to the original, director Sam Mendes brings some modernity to the play by using modern-day clothing and stage set. But, as alluded to above, it was the performance of the excellent actors that enriched my experience of this play.

The action opens with King Lear dividing his kingdom between his three daughters, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia, based on their professions of love for him. Devastated by his favourite’s (Cordelia) unwillingness to flatter him, the king hands his estate to the other two and then gradually descends into madness.

Goneril and Cordelia become greedy and turn their backs on Lear, an act which contributes to his poor mental state. Shunned by his family, Lear’s only companions become the faithful servants in his realm. A parallel story of filial love/betrayal is that between the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons (one of whom is illegitimate).

As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, weather conditions act as portents of things to come. This one is no different. Thunder and even rain accompany descriptions of lightning.

A brief interview at intermission reveals the thought and research that were used to make this production the emotional, understandable one it is.

King Lear screens at 7.30pm on 14, 18 and 19 June and at 2.30pm on 15 June at the theatres mentioned above. With an intermission, the performance is three and a half hours long. Visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or call Ticketline on 082 16789.

A 1600s print out for King Lear

A 1600s print out for King Lear which is to be screened in South Africa from the National Theatre in London. Photo: Creative Commons

Cordelia in King Lear's court, a scene from Shakespeare's play, King Lear. Photo: Creative Commons

Cordelia in King Lear’s court, a scene from Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. Photo: Creative Commons


War Horse Breathes to Life on Stage

A review by Brenda Daniels

The West End Production of War Horse, filmed and broadcast by National Theatre Live, will be screened at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa this month. The show is based on the book by Michael Morpurgo and set during World War I making the show’s release this year a particularly meaningful one as 2014 marks the war’s centenary.

War Horse is the touching story of Albert and his horse Joey. Raised by Albert and trained to plough on the family farm in Devon, Joey is sold into the British army and sent to France. Too late to stop the sale, heartbroken Joey joins the war in the faint hope of tracking down his beloved horse.

Brave Joey shows spirit and strength as he endures the hardships of fighting, as well as compassion to a fellow horse and a number of kind humans who come across his path. Joey even changes hands across enemy lines joining the war effort on the side of the Germans.

The story conveys a strong message of reconciliation, always featuring the beautiful horse as its heart.

What is remarkable about this multi-award-winning production is the amazingly realistic, life-size horse puppets. Manned by three people at a time, the puppeteers do a brilliant job of bringing their horse “shells” to life. Whinnying, neighing, snorting, stamping, galloping, rearing, tail swishing – everything a horse does these puppeteers do. And although the men and women handling the puppets are visible to the audience, it’s the horse you focus on; the humans do not detract from the story at all.

There is something else noteworthy: this stage production was done in association with the South African-based, award-winning Handspring Puppet Company.

If you think a stage show couldn’t possibly be as stirring or visually exciting as the film which is also based on the book, think again. The theatre methods used are so clever. Scenery splashed up on a “torn” screen to represent a sketch book, “pole” theatre (actors holding poles to define areas), uniquely choreographed movements and a revolving stage all work together to create an absorbing entertainment experience.

Although quite lengthy (two hours and 50 minutes including an intermission during which an interesting interview takes place) I urge theatre goers to watch this wonderful production.

War Horse releases at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on 12 April for eight screenings only – 12, 16, 17, 19, 23 and 24 April at 7.30pm and on 13 and 20 April at 2.30pm in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Blue Route Mall. The National Theatre Livescreening of War Horse will also mark the first theatre production to be broadcast in South Africa in Sony 4K, following the recent digital technology projection upgrade at all the Cinema Nouveau and Ster-Kinekor sites.

Two horses in the filmed stage production of War Horse (Source: Ster Kinekor)

Two horses in the filmed stage production of War Horse (Source: Ster Kinekor)