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[Herald Review] Lee Soon-jae's charisma shines in final turn as 'King Lear'By Hwang Dong-hee
Published : June 21, 2023 - 19:44
Veteran actor Lee Soon-jae, recently wrapped up a 16-day run of “King Lear” on Sunday at the LG Arts Center in Gangseo-gu, Seoul.
The 88-year-old -- the oldest actor still active in Korea -- commanded the stage for 200 minutes, in captivating performance as Shakespeare’s tragic ruler.
Having completed the 16 performances from June 1-18, Lee expressed his gratitude through a statement released by the production company, Theater Yeonwoo, Monday: “I would like to thank all the actors, staff, production team and above all, the audience who filled the seats.”
With unwavering commitment and remarkable passion, Lee was the undeniable star of the production.
Despite being on stage for most of the play, his charismatic presence remained strong. So thoroughly did he prepare his lines, he could deliver them in his sleep, he said in an interview with The Korea Herald in May.
In the first half of the play, Lee skillfully portrayed King Lear’s capricious temperament and charismatic leadership, while maintaining his wit. Then from the dignified king who demanded his three daughters prove their love for him, anger and dejection slowly engulfed the actor upon realizing that he had been betrayed by the eldest daughter Goneril and second daughter Regan.
In the latter half, the anguish and despair of a monarch, and a human, who had lost everything was on full display with great intensity. Lee’s appearance -- barefoot and in thin white robes, with faded white hair, beard and deep wrinkles -- seemed to fully embody King Lear as a human being.
The stage design and costumes were very simple, even crude. Director Kim Si-bun said during a press conference in May that the costumes and props were designed to create an authentic ancient atmosphere, as the play is set in the 8th century BC.
The tension didn't hold for everyone. When the play climaxed toward the ending, laughter erupted during several tragic scenes. This was seemingly from misjudgments in translation and delivery, but perhaps a situation that would have been tragic in Shakespeare's time is no longer seen as such.
This 16-day run was the last opportunity to see Lee as King Lear. In the May interview with The Korea Herald, he expressed his intention to pass on the role, which he also played in the 2021 production directed by Kim.
The production team confirmed their plans to apply for a Guinness World Record with Lee as the oldest actor to star in a Shakespearean play.
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