"I got to that speech and I thought, 'Ah, finally!' I’ve found a speech rather than me going, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be so hard to play Lear’, I went, 'I really want to get up on stage and say this speech!' Looking forward to getting out there and doing it, rather than being fearful of doing it. And it was that speech for me that unlocked my relationship to performing Lear..."
Taking on this infamous role, Kevin tells us about his initial impressions of Lear, his journey through the play, and which speech 'unlocked' the character.
Time: 4 minutes 58 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Rona Kelly: And what were your initial impressions of Lear? What can you tell us about your Lear in this production?
Kevin McNally: My biggest, I suppose, challenge is to decide how virile and mentally clear he is at the beginning of the play, and how deteriorated he is at the end of the play. My instinct is to make that journey quite a long one, even if it means that some of the things he says at the beginning of the play about being infirm and old are not particularly apparent in his demeanour. I sort of make sense of that by thinking that when he talks about himself as old and infirm he’s almost looking for sympathy. He’s very much, ‘Oh, woe is me!’ But I think my take on him is that he’s a man that thinks, ‘Well, I’ve still got some fun left in me. I’m going to get rid of everything - rather selfishly - and enjoy myself!’ And does not fulfil his responsibilities as a leader and that is his downfall. But that downfall is what brings him his humanity and his love, even though that tragically doesn’t work out well.
It’s interesting, I think in the eighteenth century, people rewrote the ending so that it was a happy ending. Because it is almost unbearable that he sees his errors always slightly too late, and it results in the most appalling tragedy and death of all the characters who you might love.
I want to take a take on Lear where you are infuriated by him at the beginning of the play, but by the end of the play you so wish that his recovery and his understanding of true love and humanity could have had a better outcome. And I can’t think of anything more tragic than that. That somebody finally makes the right choices, but too late.
RK: And can you tell us what you’ve been doing so far in the rehearsal room? Maybe in terms of characterisation or voice and movement?
KM: Well, it’s a wonderful rehearsal room because we are doing everything at once. We are mapping the play. We are working on physicality. We are working on our voices. We are working on some wonderful moments in the play, there’s a bit of dumb show at the beginning. We have some wonderful, sort of urban, gritty props that help us to get through the play. So at the same time as linearly going through the play, we’re also trying to find those moments when we can elucidate the play through props and mime show and music.
It’s a wonderful non-linear process actually, where we keep learning about what the grammar of our theatrical tools are. Not to say...certainly it will not look like some avant-garde 1950’s Russian production!
KM: I know, shame! You know, we want this to be the clearest production we can give and we do that by using every tool that theatre allows.
RK: As you work through the text and work through the rehearsals, are there any lines which you are finding are really sticking out for you? Or moments which are proving crucial?
KM: Well I was very lucky that I went to America as soon as they offered me the part three months ago, so I’ve had three months to really work on the text. And it was quite daunting for the first six weeks and then I got to his speech that begins ‘Reason not the need’. [When they finally tell him that all the things he wants are superfluous to his needs and he should just be a man alone, looked after by his kids at their behest. And he talks about ‘What do you need? If nature allows nothing, then man’s life is cheap as beast’s. You’re women. If just to go warm were gorgeous, then nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st.’ And I got to that speech and I thought, ‘Ah finally, I’ve found a speech!’ Rather than me going ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be so hard to play Lear!’, [it was] a speech when I went, ‘I really want to get up on stage and say this speech’. And once I got that, then that’s always the clue to enjoying a performance and taking the space and looking forward to getting out there and doing it, rather than being fearful of doing it. And it was that speech for me that unlocked my relationship to performing Lear.
Thanks to Ros for the transcription of this interview.