by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
In rep to 21 September 2001
Runs 3 hours 15 mins. One interval.
TICKETS 020 7401 9919/ 020 7316 4703
Review Timothy Ramsden 5 August.
A clear account of a mind moving to madness dominates this Celtic season Lear.
Rough planks turn the Globe’s ornate features into a primitive stockade for a production distinguished especially by Julian Glover’s Lear, a confident old man who smiles on complacently when Cordelia (Tonia Chauvet) refuses to join in her sisters’ flattery. His misunderstanding increases his subsequent fury against her.
Barry Kyle’s production refuses to make Lear heroic. If there’s a hero, it’s Bruce Alexander’s Kent who loyally suffers disguise and humiliation. Even as he speaks up for Lear the ex-king and his knights can be heard roistering yob-like offstage.
The moment Goneril (Patricia Kerrigan) checks her father he jumps on her – physically and vocally – and tears into her with a curse as vicious as any in the play. It leaves her distraught but determined. And the pathway from there to Lear’s insanity is clearly charted, from the first self-doubt, through times when his old assurance reasserts itself, to the onset of madness, echoed in the percussion of the storm music. Thunderous or quietly growling, sometimes with discordant voices added, the score pursues Lear through his madness.
Kyle avoids barnstorming grandeur as Lear rages on the heath. Glover enters from a corner, roped securely to John McEnery’s sour-faced Fool, who bangs into a pillar.
Brutalities heap up, and not just with the blinding, stabbings and poisoning Shakespeare offers. Goneril’s desperate screams for Edmund, Regan’s (Felicity Dean) glam-act taking her, too pointedly, into battle with lipstick and earrings, Edmund’s (Michael Gould) journeys from chancer to thug and Edgar’s (Paul Brennen) Christlike stigmata as Poor Tom all emphasise the starkness of this world.
Yet Kyle also offers necessary moments of calm; four planks create a square where Lear and Cordelia eventually meet again, prisoners but at peace between themselves. An eye for such contrasts helps make this a distinctive Lear.