Death and Destruction in Berlin: How to get a piece of Shakespeare in King Lear.

King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) at the National Theatre Live.
King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) at the National Theatre Live.

Last week, I went to the Polish Baltic Sea in Poland and I had a fabulous time travelling in the neighbouring country however, it’s time to get back to basics. It’s time to focus on Berlin. As The British Berliner, I will be giving you information about Berlin so every week for the months of May and June, I will be showing you around.

My goodness, I love this city. OMG. I mean, I really can’t get enough of Berlin.

Well yeah, it’s part of Germany and yes, it’s true that Berlin was a divided city with a divided soul but if you’re going to make comment then you might as well see it for yourself and stay for a couple of days, or perhaps a week, while you’re at it.

Cordelia in the court of King Lear painted in 1873.
Cordelia in the court of King Lear painted in 1873.

Part of focusing on Berlin is to let you know the type of thing that you can do here when you come.

You don’t speak German, I hear you say. Not to worry. There are plenty of activities that you can do or places that you can go with very foreign language skills needed. A little more English perhaps, but if you can read this blog, you’re going to do fine LOL!

King Lear written by William Shakespeare in 1608.
King Lear written by William Shakespeare in 1608.

Some of you may know that April 23rd, 2014 marked the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and all over Britain and possibly the world; people have been paying tribute to that most famous icon, playwright, poet and bard – William Shakespeare.

A potrait of William Shakespeare.
A portrait of William Shakespeare.

One of those world places has been Berlin.

We are so, so, so lucky to be one of the designated cities to have original productions broadcasted by the English Royal National Theatre. Live. What this means is that you don’t have to go to London to watch these productions and pay through your nose, but you can relax and watch them from the comfy seat of a world-class cinema, instead.

On Wednesday, I received a ticket from one of Berlin’s very few cinemas in which you can watch original English Language films. The cinema is called: CineStar Berlin – Original. im Sony Center.

You can watch Hollywood blockbusters, Oscar nominated films, the English Royal Opera Live and live productions from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Awesome or what? It’s the cinema that I go to the most and this time I chose to watch the National Theatre Live production of King Lear.

The Royal English National Theatre.
The Royal English National Theatre.

WHAT’S THE NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE?

The National Theatre Live is an exciting initiative to broadcast live performances of the best of British theatre to cinemas in Britain and around the world. Launched in 2009, the National Theatre Live is shown in over 700 cinemas, in 22 countries all around the world. So far, I’ve personally seen two productions 1 starring John Lithgow in “The Magistrate” which was awesome and the 2nd one starring Helen Mirren in “The Audience” which was fabulous. King Lear was the 3rd production.

WHAT IS KING LEAR ABOUT?

Experts believe that King Lear was probably written between 1603-1606 and is one of Shakespeare’s most known tragedies along with Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet.

King Lear is a tragedy about an aged king who decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters according to which of them praises him the most. Unfortunately, his favourite daughter, Cordelia, doesn’t say what he wants to hear and is married off and banished and so a spiral of disaster begins.

DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND SHAKESPEARE TO WATCH IT?

Yes and No!

Yes, because the actors speak in ye olde English of Shakespeare’s’ time.

No, because you don’t need to get the words in order to understand the play. It’s pretty plain to see the anger, the pain, the death and the destruction. Without giving too much away: a lot of people die painful, gruesome deaths and they acted it pretty well as there was gallons of “blood” all over the stage! If you’re looking for your adrenalin rush and bloody gore: go to the theatre.

DO I “KNOW” ANYONE?

SAM MENDES: Well, he’s the playwright director and also the director of such film projects as American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), and Skyfall of James Bond (2012). In case you’re wondering, yes, he is also the ex-husband of Kate Winslet!

Sam Mendes as the director of King Lear.
Sam Mendes as the director of King Lear.

SIMON RUSSELL BEALE: Simon plays the title role of King Lear and is one of England’s most popular and critically acclaimed talents in British theatre. He has been described in various quarters as one of England’s greatest actors and has been seen in various other Shakespearean productions such as Hamlet, Othello, and Twelve Night.

King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) with the Earl of Kent (Stanley Townsend).
King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) with the Earl of Kent (Stanley Townsend).

You might not know Stanley Townsend who plays the Earl of Kent, Stephen Boxer who plays the Earl of Gloucester, or even Sam Troughton who plays Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, but I bet you are familiar with the actor Adrian Scarborough.

Cordelia, the beloved daughter of King Lear (Olivia Vinall).
Cordelia, the beloved daughter of King Lear (Olivia Vinall).

ADRIAN SCARBOROUGH: Adrian plays the King’s Fool or the Jester. He can be seen in such productions as The King’s Speech (2010), Gavin & Stacey (2007-2010), Upstairs, Downstairs (2010), Les Misérables (2012), comedy sketches from the BBC production “The Fast Show” (1994-1997), known in America as “Brilliant,” and of course he’s also famously known as Arthur Weasley, the father of Ron Weasley, in the Harry Potter films (2001-2011).

The Fool (Adrian Scarborough).
The Fool (Adrian Scarborough).

MY VERDICT?

Absolutely wonderful! I might be biased here but you can never go wrong with a British production!

I am an addict of good literature and historical drama. Watching the theatre in a cinema setting is as good as being at the theatre itself. Whoever coughed up that idea is a clever fellow. Because you can:

  • Watch a theatre production in the comfort of (depending on your ticket), a luxury seat.
  • Wear whatever you want although I noticed a few people dressed up. Mostly, we British people. It’s ingrained in our blood!
  • Sit together as a group of 3 or a group of 20.
  • If you’re really squeezed, you can stretch and walk around in the stairway of the cinema. Somehow, I don’t see that happening in a “real” theatre.
  • You can bring your popcorn and beer into your seat but for more authenticity, buy champagne and brand bottles and glasses about like I did. It’s the theatre sweetie!!
  • Most importantly, quality theatre of the best actors on the British stage for only €18.00, in your own home-town or nearby!
Edgar son of Gloucester (Tom Brooke), in a terrible state in King Lear!
Edgar son of Gloucester (Tom Brooke), in a terrible state in King Lear!

WHAT IF SHAKESPEARE REALLY ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA?

Not to worry. There are more productions coming up that can be seen at the Cinestar Berlin – Original such as:

• The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon coming up in Berlin on 05.06.14.
• A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn coming up in Berlin on 03.07.14.

Tickets for the National Theatre live in Berlin are €18.00 for adults and €13.00 for children and can be bought online here. A wonderful bargain

Approximate running time: 3 hours 20 minutes, including a 20 minute interval.

For more information about King Lear, please contact: The National Theatre Live.

For more information about Shakespeare’s birthday please contact: The official Shakespeare’s Birthday celebration website.

For more information about Original English films or productions in Berlin, please contact: CineStar Berlin – Original.

Edmund the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester (Sam Troughton) in King Lear.
Edmund the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester (Sam Troughton) in King Lear.

This article is not sponsored and even though I received a complimentary ticket, all opinions and the bottles of Scavi & Ray champagne I quaffed, are my very own! Every week for the months of May and June, I’ll be writing about summer time in Berlin, and what to do when you get here.

Watch this space!

Have you watched a National Theatre Live production? Have you watched an English language original film in a foreign country?

 Are you coming for the summer? See you in Berlin.

The Earl of Gloucester (Stephen Boxer) in King Lear.
The Earl of Gloucester (Stephen Boxer) in King Lear.

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46 thoughts on “Death and Destruction in Berlin: How to get a piece of Shakespeare in King Lear.

    1. Hi Agness, thank you so much for coming by! I hope you will be able to catch up with Shakespeare and let me know when you get here so that you can tell me all about China with a German Krystal Bier!

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  1. One of the things I always meant to do in London but never got around to was go watch a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; this King Lear production looks awesome. I’m also intrigued by the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – I loved that book.

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    1. Hi Amy! Thanks for your comment. I know exactly what you mean. When we go “home” time is so tight that it’s difficult to watch something cultural what with family committments n’all. I went to London in January myself and I was tempted to try and squeeze in “Henry V” with Jude Law but tickets were sold out months in advance or really expensive for a Saturday night 🙂 so being able to see a few productions in Berlin is wonderful.
      Yep. I can’t wait to watch the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as I’ve read the book too and I heard that it had fantastic critical reviews in London. It will be a blast I’m sure and I already have my ticket!

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  2. English-language movie theaters have been my lifeline since I studied abroad a decade ago. In Moscow you can watch National Theater Live productions at Cinema 35 mm (mentioned here http://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/voices-in-my-head/ ). I am not particularly hungry for Shakespeare (though Coriolanus with Hiddleston is the closest I’ll come to changing my mind) but I was dying to go see The Audience with Helen Mirren and…didn’t, for some reason. Now I need to download it….

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    1. Thanks for the link Anna, I saw that you guys really suffer in regard to watching original movies. Thankfully, we have about 8 or 9 cinemas in Berlin that you can watch stuff in English without the dubbing. I so dislike it myself. I’m really surprised that a city as big as Moscow doesn’t have more than two cinemas….!
      Anyhow, back to the National Theatre. Hurrah, Moscow is one of the chosen cities! As you probably know Shakespeare isn’t the only thing on offer and Helen Mirren is an absolute darling and so sexy for an older woman LOL! I’ve watched a lot of her stuff and I was so delighted to be able to see “The Audience” Live.

      Everyone, everywhere was talking about it. Apparently, during the rehearsals, a couple of kids were messing about outside the theatre during rehearsal and Helen came out in all her “Queen” gear and gave them a good hearing. They were so astounded as they thought she really was Elizabeth!

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      1. Did you see the story of how a dying boy wanted to meet the Queen, but the ‘real’ one couldnt make it, so Dame Helen came by in full get-up? OMG I got something in my eye again….

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  3. I can’t wait to visit in June , but l suspect we will not be seeing this. The hubby would not be able to keep up with the English . ..:o). Macbeth? I would force him to see it anyway, as it’s my favorite..lol! It sounds great though.

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    1. We can’t wait to have you in our city kemkem. 🙂 Don’t worry too much if your husband’s English isn’t up to Shakespeare. Ah, you like Macbeth. Intriguing. My favourite Shakespeare play: Hamlet! You can watch the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time instead or go to an open-air movie or better still, people-watch on the River Spree at any of our excellent, trendy, doesn’t-cost-you-anything-really bars!

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    1. Thanks Phil. It’s true. We can’t dance and play all day otherwise we’d collapse! Yeah, it really was a brilliant performance. I really do like literature and I love watching updated versions of old classics but I prefer reading the original stuff. No revised versions for me ‘cos Shhhhh. I’m an English teacher. Don’t tell anyone!

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  4. Berlin seems amazing, unfortunately we missed it on our trip to Germany. To be honest, I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan, but I have somehow managed to make to it to his birthplace in Stratford and the Globe Theatre in London – go figure! 🙂

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    1. Oh, you’ve got to come back Katie and vist Berlin this time. For def. Where did you go instead?
      Re-Shakespeare. Do you know, lots of people say the same and yet, and yet….we’re all gorging ourselves on the era or version that is from Shakespeare and don’t get me started on Hollywood. Pretty much everything we watch these days, is a spin-off a Shakespeare play! So glad that you made it to the Globe Theatre AND Stratford-upon-Avon as it’s been years, years, since I went to Stratford myself, and what comes clearly to mind are the huge swans! Are they still there?

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      1. We went to Munich and the Rhine Valley. Both were fantastic! I loved the German culture, my grandmother is from Germany so it was nice to see what she raved about all those years! Shakespeare’s stories are definitely timeless, no wonder Hollywood still uses them! My trip Stratford was in 2005, can’t believe it’s been nearly a decade!

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      2. Thank you so much Katie! German culture is so beautiful and I’m proud to have married into it LOL! How lovely that your grandmother came from Germany. All those classical, logical genes!
        It’s so true that Shakespeare is timeless. I think William himself would be astonished how his books and plays have stood the sense of time, in different languages and in different forms. I can’t even remember when I last went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, it was that long ago. Funnily, I remember the huge swans, perhaps it’s because Shakespeare has never left my sight as we have the National Theatre Live Production, Shakespeare in the Park, and various other stage performances in Berlin!

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  5. You gave me just one more reason to love a city that is one of my favorite already. Berlin really has everything, I have to keep an eye open for these performances when I get there next time 🙂

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