By William Shakespeare
Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS To 23 December
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat Thur & Sat 13.30 but check performance dates with box office.
Runs 3hr30 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7638 8891.
Review: William Russell 16 November.
A truly splendid Lear
Gregory Doran’s lavish and traditional staging of King Lear with Anthony Sher as the King is worlds away from the version staged on the other side of the Thames by Deborah Warner with Glenda Jackson as the King. Comparisons are really not necessary. Each is its own thing, each perfectly valid.
Sher makes a magnificent Lear, arriving in full pomp carried on seated on his throne encased in a vast glass box to make the hideous mistake of dividing up his kingdom between his three daughters. He is an imposing figure engulfed in furs, a barbaric almost Mongol like ruler – the court is dressed in black, Goneril and Regan are bejewelled and Cordelia is all in white, and vast golden discs are being carried in procession.
Sher speaks the verse beautifully and his descent into madness, still trailing the remnants of power – the impressive furs vanish to be replaced by rags – is very moving. As Gloucester, also a man with offspring who let him down, David Troughton matches him so that both plots carry their full weight.
Nia Gwynne and Kelly Williams as Goneril and Regan may be disloyal and grasping daughters, but Lear’s hundred knights are clearly a plague on the land and justify some of their fury at what has happened to them as their father insists on his pomp without responsibility.
The only problem is that the staging of the storm is pretty feeble. It is not helped by the concept that this is, as was England at the time, a land where the poor wandered the countryside as the stage gets very cluttered up with people in rags running around. Indeed Lear seems surrounded by folk when the storm is raging tepidly rather than a man abandoned with only the Fool and Kent to help him. But it is a small matter in a thoroughly rewarding and strongly cast evening.
The difference with the rival production is simply that this is what one expects the RSC and a theatrical knight to provide, whereas Jackson gives one of those once in a lifetime not to be missed performances. It is not that she is better, just amazingly different. But Sher’s Lear is a fine addition to the long list of theatrical knights and senior actors who have played the role which is, of course, the older actor’s Hamlet, a challenge not to be ignored.
King Lear: Anthony Sher.
Goneril: Nia Gwynne.
Regan: Kelly Williams.
Cordelia: Natalie Simpson.
Albany: Clarence Smith.
Cornwall: James Clyde.
King of France: Marcus Griffiths.
Duke of Burgundy: Theo Ogundipe.
Kent: Anthony Byrne.
Gloucester: David Troughton.
Edgar: Oliver Johnstone.
Edmund: Paapa Essiedu.
Fool: Graham Turner.
Oswald: Byron Mondahl.
Curan: Kevin N Golding.
Lear’s Gentleman: Eke Chukwu.
Old Man: Ewart James Walters.
Doctor Kevin N Golding.
Herald: Theo Ogundipe.
Captain: Marcus Griffiths.
Servants: Romayne Andrews, James Cooney, Jenny Fennesy.
Messengers: Romayne Andrews, Bethan Cullinane, Marieme Diouf, Jenny Fennesy.
Lears Knights: Louis Allen, Valerie Antwi, Matthew Athey, Adam Bellamy, Ethan Chapples, Phoenix Di Sebastiani, John Irvine, George Johnston, Cynon Lewis, Adam Lilley, Tom Manning, Sashka Myers, Drew Paterson, Ralph Pickering, Tea Poldervaart, Mark Richardson, Sheri Sadd, Martin Sales, Shiv Sharma, Michael Skellern, Joe Tye, Anton Wight.
Director: Gregory Doran.
Designer: Niki Turner.
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell.
Composer: Ilona Sekacz.
Sound Designer: Jonathan Ruddick.
Movement Director: Michael Ashcroft.
Fight Director: Bret Yount.
Company Voice & Text Work: Kate Godfrey.
Assistant Director: Anna Girvan.