When asked if there is any role he wants to try, the answer of Lee Soon-jae, a legendary South Korean actor of 65 years of acting career, was always the same: King Lear.
And he became the oldest King Lear in history of Korean theatre. “We often said King Lear is perhaps the only lead character reserved for an old man, and now this is really happening. This is a rare first in my acting career,” Lee Soon-jae told reporters at Seoul Arts Center as both the leader character and art director of King Lear. “I am rather worried that this might a reckless challenge, but I will do my best as this might be my last masterpiece,” he added.
Lee Hyeon-woo, the director of the play, was also present at the press. Having directed and translated numerous works of Shakespeare, Lee is considered as “master of Shakespeare” in South Korea. “He wrote King Lear while isolated at home when the Black Death swept across Europe. And the story shows the circumstances where the plague takes a heavier toll on the minorities and the poor. This will strike a chord with our contemporary audience,” the director explained.
Among the four tragedies of Shakespeare, King Lear is considered as the most overwhelming story. Lee plays King Lear, a man who once had the absolute power but faces an abysmal fall after losing everything to become an insane man. The veteran actor has chosen to tackle the role head-on. The original length of the story – running over 3 hours and 20 minutes, will be kept, and he will perform for every show, 23 of them, to account for the main character all by himself. “Successive performances of King Lear have often omitted some parts of the story. This time, it is meaningful as the original story will be reenacted to the smallest details of costumes and makeup,” the 86-year-old actor said.