by William Shakespeare.
4 Stars ****
The Old Vic, The Cut, Lambeth, London SE1 8NB to 3 December 2016.
Mon-Sat 7pm. Mat Sat 1pm.
Runs 3 hr 30 mins One interval.
Review: William Russell 5 November.
Monarch of all she surveys
This could so easily have been a car crash waiting to happen. Returning to the stage after a 21 year career in politics Glenda Jackson chose, of all roles, to play King Lear. She succeeds brilliantly and on her own terms.
She is not pretending to be a man; she is simply being herself, doing what she does best in a powerful and very moving performance. It is one of those evenings in the theatre to remember, to tell one’s grandchildren about even. Deborah Warner’s production is one of those stripped stage affairs with everyone in some sort of everyday dress and actors pretending, as they wander round the all white stage, to be getting ready to perform while stage hands mess about with bits of scenery. There is a line of chairs which are moved suddenly to become Lear’s court where he makes his big mistake in handing over his kingdom to his daughters and we are off, each scene being numbered as it happens, while, as the evening goes on, the whiteness disappears beneath great flowing sheets of black plastic which swallow up the stage.
There are gimmicks – Edmund (Simon Manyonda) moons the audience, the Fool (Rhys Ifans) wears a Superman outfit and sleeps in a shopping trolley, Edgar (Harry Melling) reveals his all as is the way these days, and Gloucester’s eyes get tossed into the stalls.
But they do not detract from the fact that overall it has been designed to showcase Jackson and Deborah Warner’s production achieves that goal brilliantly. Jackson is gaunt, frankly raddled, and delivers the lines in a rasping voice which reaches right to the back of the theatre – not everyone manages that these days– but shows no sign that her years as a politician have diminished her authority as an actress.
It may not be the greatest King Lear of our times, but it is certainly a performance to relish and treasure. Once very beautiful, she has turned into a ravaged older person. What we see is neither man nor woman, no feminist statement about actresses are actors, just a Lear defined on her terms.
For the rest, Karl Johnson is an impressive Gloucester, Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks are a nicely contrasted Goneril and Reagan, Morfydd Clark is very much Lear’s daughter and Harry Melling suffers to effect as Poor Tom. But the reason for the whole shebang is Jackson back where she belongs – and that is reason enough.
Kent: Sargon Yelda.
Gloucester: Karl Johnson.
Edmund: Simon Manyonda.
Goneril: Celia Imrie.
Albany: William Hubb.
Regan: Jane Horrocks.
Cornwall: Danny Webb.
Gentleman: Stephen Kennedy.
King Lear: Glenda Jackson.
Cordelia: Morfydd Clark.
Edgar: Harry Melling.
Ensemble: Bessie Carter.
Oswald: Gary Sefton.
Ensemble: Fiston Barek, Joanne Howarth, George Eggay, Mark Rose, Jonathan Coote, Fehinti Balogun, Matt Gavan, James Staddon.
Fool: Rhys Ifans.
Old Man: David Hargreaves.
Director: Deborah Warner.
Design: jean Kalman & Deborah Warner.
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman.
Composer & Sound Designer: Mel; Mercier.
Costume Designer: Zeb Lalljee.
Video Designer: 59 Productions.
Voice Coach: PatsyRodenbugh.
Company Movement: Joyce Henderson.