Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Postlethwaite: We misjudged Lear

Pete Postlethwaite
The Liverpool production of King Lear opened on 30 October

Actor Pete Postlethwaite has called bad reviews for a new production of King Lear, in which he stars, justified.

Critics called the play, which opened with a clip of Margaret Thatcher and saw the Fool perform Singing In The Rain, "self-indulgent" and "clumsy".

"We were overwhelmed, I think, by the ideas," Postlethwaite, who plays Lear, told Radio 4's Front Row. "I think what suffered was the performances."

He added that several elements had been "jettisoned" since the play opened.

"Things have gone that we found unhelpful, distracting, not true to the story," he said.

'Lacks dignity'

Postlethwaite's Lear is being performed at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, where the actor launched his career as part of the seminal Alan Dosser company, which also included the likes of Julie Walters and Jonathan Pryce.

The production is directed by Rupert Goold, who is famed for his imaginative, modern stagings of classic plays.

Let's face it, it wasn't all bad, there was a lot of really good stuff going on, bubbling underneath
Pete Postlethwaite
But critics felt he had lost his way in adapting the Shakespeare tragedy.

"Goold's bright ideas often seem self-indulgent and reductive, drawing flashy attention to the director's role of theatrical razzle-dazzler without serving the text," wrote Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph.

"It lacks dignity to a degree and is flawed by numerous misjudgments," noted Christopher Hart in The Times.

"For anyone who knows and loves the play, some scenes are truly painful to behold."

Postlethwaite, who became a household name with roles in hit films like The Usual Suspects and Romeo and Juliet, also came in for criticism.

"He often misses the pulse of the poetry, rarely illuminates its meaning, and almost totally fails to catch the desperate king's heart-rending terror of madness."

'Very happy'

Pete Postlethwaite
Shakespeare's Lear is based on the legend of King Leir
Many critics also felt confused by the decision start the play with excerpts from Margaret Thatcher's speech on becoming Prime Minister - in which she quoted from St Francis of Assisi: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony".

Interviewed by Front Row's John Wilson, Postlethwaite agreed that the clip was a mistake.

"In a way, that was symptomatic of things that were misjudged," he said.

"The first thing you want to hear in a Shakespeare play normally, I would have thought, would be Shakespeare. You don't come in with something other than those first lines.

"The production from then on didn't really make any reference to any kind of politics - left, right or indifferent - and Rupert's been bold enough to say, 'Right, that didn't work.'"

Since the changes, he added, there has been, "a very happy bunch of bunnies coming on this stage every night, telling the story in a cracking way which I'm absolutely proud of".

"Let's face it, it wasn't all bad, there was a lot of really good stuff going on, bubbling underneath that just needed releasing."

The sold out production continues in Liverpool until 29 November, before transferring to London's Young Vic theatre in the new year.

Pete Postlethwaite's interview will be broadcast on Radio 4's Front Row at 1915 GMT on Thursday 20 November.

Print Sponsor

video and audio news
Newsnight Review: Postlethwaite's Lear

King Lear in Liverpool
30 Sep 08 |  Newsnight
Postlethwaite treated in hospital
03 Nov 08 |  Merseyside


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific