Caught the RSC double-bill over the weekend, together with the lit and drama kids. It was wonderful to see how lengthy Shakespearean speeches could be so visually arresting as they are being delivered. The actors move, position and pace themselves so well, the audience is looking at a constantly moving picture that is coherent with the speech. Nothing random or incidental in the movement, but nothing static either; King Lear may have been nearly 3 hours long but it was a fascinating experience nonetheless.
The costumes were lush, rich fabrics with very striking colours -- quite a contrast to the simple pragmatic set that transitioned quite seamlessly with the action. Set changes took place in full view of the audience, though in half-light. Like characters themselves, each piece of set entered with purpose and exited with purpose, so even these brief in-between periods were interesting to watch.
And the story itself is as relevant today as it was way back when. Who's gonna look after senile old dad once the error message on his ATM reads "Insufficient funds"? Even though the old man hasn't actually lost his wits -- well, not all of them anyway -- neither of his daughters whom he has generously given all his assets to will put up with his excesses, and instead plot to remove the decrepit inconvenience once and for all. Too bad the country has to got to war as a result.
Sir Ian got a well-deserved standing ovation for his portrayal of the old king. Such a range of human emotion, and such a drastic change of status plus the intermediate stages in between the extremes already isn't easy to play, let alone the fine balance between sanity and stark raving nuts that the old king teeters on. Whoa.
Chekhov's The Seagull was another quality production of the RSC. Played in contemporary English, it was a little easier to follow than King Lear, though the plot is just as convoluted. As Sir Ian clued us in on Friday, most of the characters are plagued with self-doubt. They struggle to meet their own expectations, which are what they perceive society expects of them.
Everyone is unhappy because they can't get what they want, particularly in the area of love. Each is in love with someone who is in love with someone else. In the attempt to gain the favour or even the attention of the one they love, several characters embark on a self-destructive trail leading deeper and deeper into despair. Some characters deal with their situation better than others, of course.
I guess this is true for the human condition. People's desires can never truly be satisfied, with each success, each conquest simply being an eye-opener to new heights to scale, new goals to achieve. Perhaps it's the difference between those who curse God for what they don't have rather than thank him for what they do.
Still, having said that, I personally support our right to be unhappy. I'd rather live knowing there's more to life out there, than being satisfied thinking that was all there was to life. Faint heart ne'er fair hand won.