by William Shakespeare.
Richmond Theatre To 2 April 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7651.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 March.
Tragic intensity through clarity – at a rapid pace.
Rarely has King Lear seemed so rapid and human as in Michael Grandage’s production, touring after last year’s Donmar run. Huge vertical slits in the sides of Christopher Oram’s set of distressed white planks, suggesting medieval vastness, being the sole suggestion of the grand-scale.
As the world falls apart, changes come swiftly. Cornwall’s servant is protecting his master one moment, trying to stop him blinding Gloucester the next. Paul Jesson’s Gloucester transforms quickly from cheerful certainty to eye-gouged agony, Justine Mitchell’s Regan opportunistically jumps on Gina McKee’s reductions of Lear’s attendants.
Trust in established patterns betrays the old as they walk into their offsprings’ traps, Lear unable to discern the truth in Cordelia, Gloucester to tell Gwilym Lee’s upright, jacket-and-cardigan wearing Edgar from the irregular, hunched, limping and narrow-eyed Edmund of Alec Newman.
Derek Jacobi’s Lear begins playfully, leaning schoolmaster-like over his daughters at the opening. Telling Goneril to “Speak first” he separates the words, “first” becoming an invitation to kiss him before speaking – outward show is ironically emphasised.
Lear kisses his beloved Cordelia moments before he turns against her. Later, energy drains from his voice the moment he suspects the onset of madness. The unhinging of Lear’s mind is expressed in Grandage’s clearest directorial move, the storm ceasing for frozen moments while Lear’s speech begins as soft-spoken thoughts before rising to full volume.
Jacobi is a twin-toned Lear, using the deeper voice of authority and a high-pitched, childish tone which predominates in later scenes, where mad Lear and blind Gloucester comment satirically and at the end where the intensity agony of clarity bites him. “And my poor fool is hanged,” becomes a realisation that, in Cordelia and the “all-licensed Fool” made comic and pointed by Ron Cook, he’s lost two people who tried to warn him about himself .
There’s a final return of the stronger voice as Lear recalls defending Cordelia, but mostly this thoughtful, individual and moving performance ends on a high note of tragic pain, and a long expiration of air, followed by intense white light and birdsong: the ultimate word no word at all.
Earl of Kent: Michael Hadley.
Earl of Gloucester: Paul Jesson.
Edmund: Alec Newman.
King Lear: Derek Jacobi.
Goneril: Gina McKee.
Regan: Justine Mitchell.
Cordelia: Pippa Bennett-Warner.
Duke of Albany: Tom Beard.
Duke of Cornwall: Gideon Turner.
Duke of Burgundy: Stefano Braschi.
King of France: Ashley Zhangazha.
Edgar: Gwilym Lee.
Oswald: Amit Shah.
Fool: Ron Cook.
Gentleman: Harry Attwell.
Old Servant: Derek Hutchinson.
Director: Michael Grandage.
Designer: Christopher Oram.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound/Composer: Adam Cork.
Fight director: Terry King.
Associate director: Titas Halder.
Associate designer: Richard Kent.
Associate lighting: Richard Howell.
Associate sound: Seb Frost.