Humor Magazine

A Blessed Lear

By Davidduff

Well, certainly an exceedingly brave King Lear played last night by the indomitable Brian Blessed (78), according to the Daily Mail critic, Quentin Letts.  Poor chap passed out during his opening lines and crashed to the stage in a faint.  The dread words "Is there a doctor in the house" had to be uttered and fortunately there was.  Apparently Mr. Blessed has a history of heart problems and the worst was feared.  But not a bit of it!  Twenty minutes later, at his own insistence, he returned to the stage and 'the show went on'!  The cast, not unreasonably, were exceedingly nervous, especially the lady playing Goneril, Rosalind Blessed, his real-life daughter.

Stalwart: Brian Blessed (pictured) as Lear in the play with daughter Rosalind as Goneril, who watched in horror as her father fainted and fell 

I have watched Brian Blessed, off and on, since the early '60s when he played one of the coppers in Z Cars.  With his huge, booming baritone (bass?) voice he's a grand actor in the old style.  When I heard he was playing Lear I guessed that with his tremendous energy he would sail through the early scenes when the old king has, or thinks he has, his full regal powers but, I wondered, how would he cope with the final scenes when a broken Lear is, so to speak, 'reborn' as a gentle, humble supplicant?  Well, perhaps on this occasion the gods of theatre helped a very brave actor:

Despite waves of dizziness and such shortness of breath that he rolled his eyes and occasionally clutched his chest, he then resumed what soon became one of the more remarkable and moving renditions of Lear of all time.

Here, indeed, was a ‘poor, weak old man’, as Shakespeare calls Lear, but also a brave and determined stalwart of our English stage. Slowly, step by step, sometimes with a helping hand from his colleagues, often with visible effort, Mr Blessed did battle with his frailty – and won.

Playing King Lear is the theatrical equivalent of running a marathon.  Its demands can be judged by the fact that 'our Will' built in a long central passage in the middle of the text during which the old king does not appear because he realised that the actor concerned needs a break before launching into the final passages.  No doubt his shade was smiling benignly on Brian Blessed's courage last night.


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