Sunday, July 22, 2007

Review of the Royal Shakespeare Company's King Lear - Esplanade Theatre 21st July 2007


I just need to say this: being a big fan of the LOTR movies ( I haven't read the book - yet ), I still vividly recall a trip to Wellington, NZ, back in December 2003, during which I joined an LOTR film locations tour.

One of the places we visited was Harcourt Park, which doubled as Isengard Gardens, and was featured in a scene where Gandalf strolled with Saruman.

I remember feeling profoundly awed as we stood on the very spot Sir Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee set their feet.

And when the LOTR exhibition tour called the Singapore Science Centre its home soon after, I was equally blown away by the fact that I was in the same room as all the great costumes and props ( I also couldn't resist poking Aragorn's attire by reaching over the plexiglass barrier -- no alarm, yes! :)).

Of course, nothing could possibly beat seeing Peter Jackson's Wellington home up close as we cruised by in a bus ( if you know which tour to join, and if the guide likes you enough to point the place out to you, which ours did :)).

Hence, it has come full circle, as last night, I sat within 10 feet of the great Gandalf The Grey / White ( aka Magneto of the X-Men franchise -- a double bonus! ).

Review Proper

I'm a Shakespeare fan, having been part of a generation when early secondary school syllabuses made it compulsory study material -- not anymore, I'm told; what a pity.

However, we followed the usual trends of covering the Bard's more popular works, like The Taming Of The Shrew, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet ( the latter was my 'O' Levels text ).

Therefore, I was initially completely ignorant about King Lear, though I did my homework earlier this week, borrowing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare from the Tanglin Club library ( old and yellow with migraine-inducing small print ) and renting a beautifully written companion guide from Sunny Bookshop to make some sense of the play.

The effort cost me a post-call day, but it was worth it! King Lear is as complex as they come, following in the great Shakespearan traditions of gleeful scheming, mistaken identities / disguises, double-talk and strange coincidences.

Reading beforehand also helped highlight a few favourite scenes to watch out for, raising the enjoyment factor significantly.

As most in attendance will agree, the RSC is the foremost authority on staging Shakespeare, and I'm glad I spent the money to catch its cast in action.

I'm no play connoisseur -- the last production I caught was eons ago, ie. the local version of The Blue Room, which wasn't too bad.

Previous exposure to the Bard 'live' occurred during my schooldays, thanks to a small American troupe's retelling of Romeo & Juliet ( at some polytechnic, I think ), and a disastrous Raffles Institution version starring Lynn Kuok ( which I walked out of after the first act -- it was TERRIBLE! ).

Last night's experience was a far cry from that nightmare. Though sparing where props are concerned, the actors breathed fiery life into their characters and lines, displaying great comic timing ( in a tragedy, no less! ) and holding the audience captive for close to 3 hours.

Sir McKellan, as the lead, did not disappoint. It's easy to see why he's highly sought after for a wide variety of film roles and deeply respected as a thespian. The range he displays as Lear is formidable, beginning as a fierce, bellowing monarch, then gradually degenerating into madness and despair as his humanity and mortality consume him.

He commands the stage with ease -- whether this can be attributed to his Hollywood celebrity status, one can only speculate -- and is actually rather tall in person ( doesn't he look tiny as Magneto though? ). His sprightliness contradicts the snowy white hair and beard, and he even manages to carry the actress who plays Cordelia in the final scene without throwing out his back.

Hearing his voice proved the best part, for me at least. Not particularly low in pitch, but somewhere between a kindly grandpa and authoritative professor ( I still think he should've succeeded Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore -- Michael Gambon kinda sucks ), with a smoky texture that proved its versatility in conveying a rich palette of emotions, be it paternal affection, volcanic rage or quivering sorrow.

My favourite bits always involve his angry outbursts as he berates his unfilial elder daughters. I remember thinking ( multiple times ) about Gandalf's famous demon-deflecting line: YOU...SHALL NOT...PASS!!!

One word: WOW.

The supporting cast is equally excellent, of course. His conniving daughters, Goneril and Regan, are effectively hateful, with Goneril exuding a Julie-Andrews'-evil-twin-sister vibe, while Regan opts for a booze-swigging Cockney-accented caricature.

Sylvester McCoy received raucous cheers and applause for his buoyant role as Lear's Fool, an easily overlooked character if improperly handled.

The parallel plot involving the Earl of Gloucester and his 2 sons, Edmund and Edgar, proved equally absorbing as Lear's troubles, thanks in large part to exceptional acting.

Aside from Sir McKellan, my other favourite is Philip Winchester, who almost stole the show as the bastard scoundrel Edmund. Easily the best-looking of the lot ( tall, lean and blonde with killer cheekbones ), he clearly relishes his juicy role, which gets embroiled in everything from adultery to sibling rivalry to treason.

Did I mention the final swordfight between Edmund and Edgar is superb? The choreography matches what we see in Hollywood blockbusters, complete with hurled furniture, high leaps and graceful sword-whipping ( whatever the technical term is ).

My favourite lines came during Act I, Scene IV, where Lear curses his ungrateful eldest child, whose true colours have just emerged, exclaiming:

"Into her womb convey sterility!
Dry up in her the organs of increase;
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honor her! If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen; that it may live,
And be a thwart disnatured torment to her!
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth;
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks;
Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt; that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!"

All bow before The Master and declare yourselves unworthy! :)


I just have one complaint: that the parking arrangements were horrendous. Not the parking, mind you, but the arrangements.

I left the house at 6:30pm, hoping to arrive before 7:30pm, only to find myself circling the area 3 times as all the Esplanade carpark entrances were blocked by the police, who stood below electronic signboards flashing the words "CARPARK FULL".

Detouring to nearby commercial buildings proved futile, as the Fullerton's carparks were similarly blocked, resulting in a short anxious spell cruising along South Bridge Road without a map, before I miraculously returned to Collyer Quay by making a series of random turns. In retrospect, I guess it's pretty funny. :)

After a last-ditch attempt to park at the Ritz-Carlton ( the ROAD was closed, &*^%$#@! ), I almost gave up 15 minutes before 8pm, but decided to return to the Esplanade and try to beg my way in.

Lo and behold, the man at the entrance revealed that the "CARPARK FULL" message was a red herring, designed to ward off those without any tickets to King Lear! He then told us to go right in, after which my mom and I literally made a mad dash to the ladies' and got to our seats 5 minutes before the play began.

Wah lau eh. Never mind, I didn't forfeit anything, so lesson learnt.

Harry Potter 7

**spoiler alert**

**spoiler alert**

**spoiler alert**

I'm one of those who thought Harry should've died.

And he doesn't! ARGH!

Not being mean here, but there's something called copping out, and JK Rowling did just that.

Sad lah.

Anyway, I flipped to the last chapter so that's how I know.

Will be reading the rest of it soon, with a review to follow.

**end of spoilers**

**end of spoilers**

**end of spoilers**

Harry Potter 5

The only 2 Harry Potter films to date which do justice to the novels are The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber Of Secrets.

The Order Of The Phoenix is a poor interpretation of what I consider a fine book. Unwieldy, yes, but it also boasts one of the richest collection of characters, and lots of intriguing subplots which are grossly overlooked in the interest of time and crowd-pleasing.

Harry and Cho Chang's tenuous relationship is skimmed over ( there's just so much more to it in the novels, beginning from Book 2 or 3, I believe ); Dumbledore's Army is whittled down in terms of on-screen time, and the flashback sequences where Harry reads Severus Snape's schoolday memories about the former's parents are only granted 10 seconds of coverage -- it was an entire spellbinding chapter in the book, for pete's sake!

Helena Bonham Carter is reduced to a cameo as Bellatrix LeStrange, and Sirius Black's demise is horrendously inadequate, considering the importance of his role.

Even Harry isn't spared the one-dimensional characterization. Director David Yates opted for more visual effects and action sequences, compromising severely on plot and emotional depth.

As a result, I consider this by far the weakest of the Harry Potter movies. How tragic.

Numb3rs Returns!

Last but not least, tune in every Tuesday at 9pm for season 3 of this terrific series.

The Epps men are back, with brothers Don and Charlie doing battle with nefarious criminals, while their wise father offers pearls of wisdom and a gentle, guiding hand.

David Krumholtz is cuter than ever, and Rob Morrow's gotten more buff.

A great way to spend a Tuesday evening, if you ask me. :)

Enjoy your week ahead. I've got 5 days off to attend a course. No patients, heh heh!

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