, May, 2016, Geoffrey Shryhane

To coincide with the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, King Lear is making its way to Manchester Opera House. GEOFFREY SHRYHANE takes to accomplished actor Michael Pennington.

Talk to in-depth lovers of Shakespeare and it won't be long before the name of Michael Pennington crops up. Over almost a lifetime, he has carved out a name as one of the most accomplished actors of the work of the Bard.

And there was delight when it was announced earlier this year that Michael would be playing King Lear in a new production of the same name. Most immediately recalled that he recently received his fourth Olivier nomination.
Michael's reputation goes before him of course. There isn't an important Bard part he has not played, and I went to Northampton's Royal and Derngate Theatre to chat to him.

This "Lear" has already opened to wonderful acclaim and the tour begins in several weeks' time. It arrives at Manchester Opera House on the last Tuesday in May and plays until the following Saturday.

It's another busy year for Michael who is delighted that his book "King Lear in Brooklyn" published to coincide with the tour and is an account of the production in New York in which he first played Lear two years ago. He also writes about the new production and how it was brought to life.
An unassuming, gentle man, Michael Pennington has only recently returned from a Shakespeare tour in America. But there is no sign of strain. In fact, he is one of the most relaxed actors I've had the privilege to meet.

Setting down his sandwich lunch - still in its paper bag - Michael said: "It's true, you know. I do go back a long, long time. I started with the Royal Shakespeare theatre in 1964 and in those days I could never have imagined I'd be playing Lear all these years later. It's wonderful.

"I suppose I've been working up to this moment for many years. My voice is right now - true, it's taken around 50 years. I'm told my voice is now 'exciting.' When I first performed Lear in a new theatre near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

"I would have loved to have brought that production here but it would have beyond the most generous finances. So this is a collaboration between three different bodies. I thought recently 'Why didn't we think of that before?'"

Michael smiled as he related his belief that Lear has many twists and turns relevant to today.

He said: "In the end it's a story of a man and his three daughters and the division of the inheritance on his death. We can look at the King today and realise that he is most likely a victim of Alzheimer's disease. And it shows what happens when people don't make a will."

Michael added: "Although in essence there are just 11 scenes, King Lear is never less than robust and there's a lot happening throughout. Playing the part of the king is, in my view, very much like riding a thoroughbred horse.

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