KING LEAR LIVE An outline of the presentation and performance

NT Live: Donmar Warehouse, Convent Garden, London &

Bath Little Cinema, Bath, UK

3rd February 2011


  • Audience anticipating a 19.00 start but the time dragged on
  • Curtains opened and onscreen were scrolling images of the sponsor Aviva Insurance and some production/rehearsal stills
  • Certification notice finally appeared, telling us that the film was a 12A ‘As Live’ (which did contradict the information on the ticket which stated ‘no certificate’)
  • The live feed began around 19.15 with shots of the audience at the Donmar. This gave the cinema audience a perspective from within the auditorium, to enable us to feel part of things
  • The impatience built, however, as we had no indication of when the performance would start and there were none of the usual distractions of sitting in the cinema, such as trailers, etc.
  • Then a short film about the sponsor’s work with Indian street children appeared
  • After which Emma Freud (TV/Radio Arts presenter) introduced us to the live feed from onstage, informing that we are in for ‘a massive treat’ (!)
  • She conducted a very short interview with the director, Michael Grandage, who commented on the fact that the play would be performed for the audience in the theatre, that ‘people in cinemas will know that’ (he expects us to be a literate and patient group)
  • A short film about the Donmar followed, with interviews from actors (Jude Law, Gillian Anderson, Alfred Molina) who had experience of the space, commenting on the proximity with the audience, the intimate scale etc.
  • We were given a perspective on the theatre which allowed the cinema audience to set things in context
  • The set for the production consisted of weathered white painted boards, which clad the whole interior of the theatre, and suggested a ‘pagan’ ‘purity’ (Grandage) and the white cliffs of Dover
  • Once the feed went live the play had already started and we had missed the actual entrance of Gloucester and Kent!
  • Entrances/exits: single USR, and then through auditorium DSR & DSL. The cinema audience therefore lost out slightly on the promenade aspect of the action with proximity to actors for those moments
  • Cameras seem to be set-up SL and SR, with some hand-held mobile units for tracking and also a bird’s eye shot from the upper circle (will have to defer to Kelli on this and her more expert eye!). The bird’s eye shot gave the cinema audience an enhanced perspective on the floor work in the blocking – best vantage point to us there!
  • Best vocal performances for modulation and projection that did not hurt the sound (!): Jacobi, Michael Hadley as Kent and Paul Jesson as Gloucester (tones of the older, trained male voice seem to work best). Plus Jacobi performed the ‘Blow winds’ speech in a stage whisper, contrasted with loud sound effects, which worked excellently.
  • Memorable scenes for framing and tableau: Lear’s curse to Goneril (the tension visible in Jacobi clearly evident in a full-length shot and when McKee as Goneril turned – to reveal tears down her cheeks); Gloucester and Edgar (as Tom) at the ‘cliff-top’ (when Gloucester speaks of his son and we see Edgar framed in shot just beyond). These scenes spoke of both the force and intimacy possible in such a presentation of the play
  • Unfortunate loss of satellite feed during Lear’s first mad scene in the second half. 15 minutes or so to re-connect. Groans from the cinema audience as if to say ‘I told you so’ (it all felt too good to last!)
  • Actors re-played the Gloucester/Edgar cliff-top scene and the play continued without anymore interruptions.
  • Sensitive radio mics picked up rustling and breathing and the unforgiving aspect of the close-up showed the dead Cordelia and Lear clearly breathing (heavily) after the exertion of the performance – a reminder of how much it takes out of the actor!
  • Unexpected issues over the etiquette of performance for the cinemagoer included: to laugh or not to laugh, and when to clap and for how long if the performers cannot hear you!


About gabymalcolm

Author and Illustrator - on all things 19th Century and popular culture. Currently re-writing history ...
This entry was posted in film and television adaptation, Popular Culture, Shakespeare Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to KING LEAR LIVE An outline of the presentation and performance

  1. Pingback: King Lear Live! Well, Sorta | Unmuzzled Thoughts (about Teaching and Pop Culture)

  2. Pingback: National Theatre’s Live Lear: My Notes | Unmuzzled Thoughts

  3. Pingback: King Lear Live! Well, Sorta | Unmuzzled Thoughts

  4. Pingback: National Theatre’s Live Lear: My Notes | Pop-Cultured Prof | Kelli Marshall

  5. Pingback: King Lear Live! Well, Sorta | Pop-Cultured Prof | Kelli Marshall

  6. Pingback: National Theatre's Live Lear: My Notes | Kelli Marshall

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