Ian McKellen in King Lear at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan

Ian McKellen in King Lear – review round-up

King Lear, Minerva Theatre, Chichester – Review Round-Up

Tender, violent, moving and shocking, King Lear is considered by many to be the greatest tragedy ever written.

Ian McKellen reigns supreme in Jonathan Mumby’s triumphant retelling of Shakespeare’s epic masterpiece.

Staged in the intimate setting of Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, McKellen’s Lear is intensely moving and perfectly pitched to the scale of the space.

A strong supporting cast includes Sinéad Cusack aptly playing Kent, Dervla Kirwan as glacial Goneril, Jonathan Bailey’s transformative Edgar and Damien Molony as self-seeking resentful half-brother Edmund.

Read our round-up of reviews below

Find ticket to the West End transfer of King Lear

King Lear runs until 28 October 2017 at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Average rating score for this production


“Jonathan Munby’s smart, lucid production features plenty of pomp and circumstance, and a superbly detailed performance by McKellen.”

“McKellen’s Lear is no Stonehenge Titan. Instead it dwells, almost conversationally, on the guilt, remorse and mix of reason and madness that may accompany old age."

"McKellen is at his best in the encounter with Gloucester where he uses all his technique to illustrate often obscure lines yet movingly fights back his tears when he talks of “this great stage of fools”.

"Munby’s production, played on a circular red disc that turns to white hardboard as the action becomes more Beckettian, combines clarity and momentum. It is also very well acted."

Michael Billington, The Guardian

"Jonathan Munby's compelling chamber version of 'King Lear' in the Minerva Studio allows McKellan to play around with the beat and tempo of the verse." "This is a Lear strong on narrative excitement and, in a vivid cast, Kirsty Bushell’s Regan is sexually aroused by violence, unlike the more controlled Goneril of Dervla Kirwan. We must fervently hope that the production will be filmed." Paul Taylor, Independent

"Jonathan Munby’s modern-dress account, clear-sighted rather than radical, begins with pageantry and ritualistic song. Yet it’s satisfyingly brisk and finds some uncomfortably visceral ways to embody the play’s imagery of a society plunged into chaos." "McKellen gives a strikingly conversational reading of the part, savouring the nuances of Lear’s nostalgia, dark logic and fragility as much as his scalding fury." “With finely measured intelligence he traces Lear’s inexorable movement from pomp via rage and shambolic delirium to melancholy tenderness and the agony of belated self-knowledge." "The supporting roles are luxuriously cast. Sinéad Cusack brings radiant authority and then a rugged abruptness to Lear’s loyal retainer Kent. Dervla Kirwan is a memorably glacial Goneril, and Kirsty Bushell’s shimmying Regan is a chilling mix of glee and twitchy malice, while rising star Tamara Lawrance has a restrained dignity as their noble-hearted, modest sister Cordelia." "Jonathan Bailey’s Edgar is a touching study of transformation and Damien Molony captures the self-seeking resentment of his half-brother Edmund." Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

Pomp and pageantry rule for Ian McKellen’s glorious homecoming.” “There was a danger that this could have ended up as The Ian McKellen Show, a star vehicle for him as, at the age of 78, he plays Shakespeare’s flawed king one more time, but it is a much finer production than that.” Ann Treneman, Times

"Ian McKellen reigns supreme in this triumphant production." "There’s a lot of grand ceremony in Jonathan Munby’s lucid, insightful, finely acted production, which, with its imposing initial mixture of quasi Edwardian attire and gestures of fearful reverence to the gods above, more resembles an echo of Trevor Nunn’s opulent staging than a retort to it. " "Ten years ago, the storm scene made headlines when the star stripped off (giving rise to gags about Gandalf and his wand). Here, he remains fully clothed, yet soaked to the skin, the effect just as memorable." “One hopes, of course, that this isn’t the last time we’ll see him in Shakespeare or on stage but if this is his swansong, what a triumph – and one I fervently pray is caught on film.” Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph

"A triumphant return to the role...McKellen’s performance is perfectly pitched to the scale of the space” This is not as extreme a Lear as the one McKellen gave for Trevor Nunn 10 years ago at the Royal Shakespeare Company — by which I mean he doesn’t get naked. It is, however, no less intelligent and at least as powerfully reflective. "Danny Webb’s Gloucester is among the finest I have seen, compact of dignity and decency and thus much more desolate after he is blinded. As the treacherous Edmund, Damien Molony is fluent and downright casual in his serial wickednesses, almost sociopathic. "The more one ages, the more Lear overtakes Hamlet as Shakespeare’s greatest work. Munby discreetly makes his production the tragedy of growing old in a world where form and certainty alike are shrivelling." Ian Shuttleworth, FT

"A stunning studio version of Shakespeare's play has an impressive valedictory Lear from Ian McKellen." “This King Lear is an intensely moving experience, not just for its piercing portrait of advancing mortality and a man losing his grip both on power and of himself, but also for the melancholic weight of age that McKellen inevitably now brings to it." Mark Shenton, The Stage

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