Do see this play if you can. I saw McKellen’s version in London in 1979 and found myself gripping my companion’s hand (and he mine) as each of us virtually shuddered with the soul-lacerating emotion of parts of it, particularly that of the train scene in Act I (don’t worry: I’m not giving anything away). Then, as the review says, comes the question of survival. It’s gruelling and you do need a little nerve. You feel more for being in a theatre rather than watching it on TV, of course, because everyone else’s emotion is there, magnifying and intensifying your own. It goes without saying that you need the skill of the actors and director, and I haven’t seen this production (and am, unfortunately, unlikely to be able to), but I’ve seen two productions now – the McKellen one and one some three years later by a very good amateur company (a Little Theatre Guild group called the Criterion Theatre in Coventry) – and felt emotionally shattered after each experience.
You were so lucky, Andy, to get to see the Ian McKellen production. I saw in several times at the Vancouver Art’s Club production in 1981 which included Vancouver actor Brent Carver and it sold out every night for something like nine months before a serious car accident put one of the principles in the hospital. It was indeed a shattering experience on par with “Angles in America”.