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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

Archive: KING LEAR

For the archive we have put our reviews of several productions of King Lear on one page. Scroll down for the one you want, or just browse.

Timothy Weat 2003 - Corin Redgrave 2004 - Ian McKellen 2007 - Pete Postlethwaite 2009 - Derek Jacobi 2010 - Greg Hicks 2011 - Jonathan Pryce 2012 - Simon Russell Beale 2014 - Glenda Jackson 2016 - Antony Sher 2016


Timothy West, Old Vic Theatre Spring 2003

Timothy West is a character actor whose forte is crusty curmudgeons you can't help loving. So it would be a good guess, even before seeing this production by the English Touring Theatre, that he'd give us a realistic, human-sized Lear rather than a universe-threatening heroic giant

And that is exactly what we get. West's Lear is no more or less than the 'foolish fond old man' he calls himself, a tired old workhorse who just wanted to retire in peace but made some serious errors of judgement, which he comes to realise and regret.

And on that level, as long as you don't miss the grander passions more heroic or histrionic actors would bring to the role, West's Lear is a performance to savour.

Granted, he isn't very good at the role's more passionate moments - the vicious curses at his evil daughters, or the famous storm scene. But in the quieter, more personal scenes he brings an understated but richly moving humanity to the role.

So the high points of the evening are the scenes in which David Cardy's Fool gently guides him to the realisation of his errors; the beautiful moment in which, having gone through madness, he awakens to a reunion with Rachel Pickup's Cordelia more sane and self-aware than he has ever been; his quiet resignation at going off to prison; and, of course, the heart-breaking final scene.

These are all the human moments, the visions of an old man in pain, going through a painful learning process he shouldn't have to bear; and larger, flashier performers too often miss this aspect of the play.

Unfortunately, much of what surrounds West's subtle and moving performance is not up to the same level. Director Stephen Unwin does not seem to have led his other actors to much sense of their characters, and while some of them have strong moments Cardy showing us the Fool's warm care for the king, Dominic Richards catching flashes of Edmund's sardonic villainy too many of them settle for generic sketches rather than fleshed-out characterisations.

Jessica Turner's haughty Goneril and Catherine Kanter's icy Regan are vague outlines of the characters, of the sort you might expect early in rehearsals, not after six months of touring, while Rachel Pickup's Cordelia has no shape at all.

And almost everyone onstage has moments of bizarre, almost amateurish awkwardness, as they don't seem to know what to do with their hands, or how to get naturally from one side of the stage to the other.

All Shakespeare-lovers have touchstone moments for each play, scenes or speeches they wait for, to see how this actor will do them. One of mine comes near the very end, when Lear realises that Cordelia is dead and will never return. At that point Shakespeare inserts a line that is simply the word 'never' repeated five times.

I've seen great actors defeated by that line and only one - Olivier on television - do something wonderful with it, until now. Timothy West makes it a quietly ascending journey into horror until, at the final 'never', he is facing an abyss of despair that will kill him.

It is a great moment in a very fine performance, and one can only regret that the rest of the production doesn't come close to it in quality.

Gerald Berkowitz

Corin Redgrave, RSC Stratford Summer 2004; Albery Theatre London Winter (Reviewed in Stratford)

I think that the first thing I should tell you about the Royal Shakespeare Company's current King Lear, transferred to London after a summer in Stratford, is that it is just short of four hours long.

That in itself will probably disqualify it for a lot of people, and most others will acknowledge that even Shakespeare has to be awfully good to hold you for that long. And Bill Alexander's production, despite many virtues, is not quite that good.

Foremost among its strengths is Corin Redgrave as the title character. Playing Lear considerably younger and stronger than the norm (One of the very few lines that has been cut is the one about his age being 'four score and upward'.), he gives us a strong, humorous and attractive man who is a worthy adversary to his evil daughters, and whose breakdown and descent into madness are all the more shocking for that.

While I have seen one star or another get various pieces of the character more completely or play certain scenes more movingly, few have maintained such a high level throughout.

The only place Redgrave seriously fails is in the final scene, which should be utterly heartbreaking and isn't, but there a good chunk of the blame must go to director Alexander, who has staged the scene in a particularly clumsy and off-putting way.

But that is almost all that I have to say that's good about the production. Most of the rest of the cast are either weak or misdirected.

Sian Brooke's Cordelia, Louis Hilyer's Kent and Matthew Rhys' Edmund make almost no impression at all, and the usually reliable John Normington almost perversely gives us a Fool who is neither funny, insightful or loving. (The love between Lear and the Fool is one of the strongest bonds in the play, but here they might be strangers.)

Ruth Gemmel makes Regan coolly enigmatic, and Leo Wringer gives an attractive manliness to the usually wimpy Albany. But, on the whole, I'm afraid that you have to sit through too much that doesn't work to get what's good.

Gerald Berkowitz

Ian McKellen, RSC New London Theatre Winter 2007-2008

The most striking thing about the Royal Shakespeare Company's new King Lear is how conventional and straight-forward it is. A few minor slips aside, director Trevor Nunn seems to have decided just to keep out of the play's way and let its inherent power come through.

The downside to this - and it may not bother many - is that Nunn and his actors don't add very much to the play's inherent power. If you've seen the play before, you're not likely to find any special enrichment or illumination here, and you are likely to have a frequent sense of deja vu.

Consider some of the secondary characterisations, for example. Generations of actresses have found hints in the text that Goneril is somewhat officious and controlled while Regan is more passionate and impulsive, and that is exactly how Frances Barber and Monica Dolan play them, Dolan only adding a hint of alcoholism to the middle sister.

Romola Garai's Cordelia is strictly generic ingenue, with no particular individualisation after her one original touch - the hint that her non-response in the love test was meant as a joke that went horribly sour.

It has for decades been more the norm than the exception to cast Lear's Fool as a sad older man, and that is just what Sylvester McCoy gives us. And Philip Winchester's Edmund keeps threatening to slip into the moustachio-twirling flamboyance of a nineteenth-century villain.

Now, all these actors are skilled and sensitive, and they bring their expertise to these conventional portrayals. But they don't bring much beyond that - you wait in vain for a moment or line reading that will suddenly illuminate character or theme in a fresh way.

Even the strongest of the supporting cast just do very well what has been done before. William Gaunt's Gloucester is a warm and human portrayal that generates more emotional response than even the King. Jonathan Hyde plays Kent with the burning energy of the righteous, bringing all his scenes to life. And Ben Meyjes understands and shows us that Edgar grows and matures through his torments.

I've left Lear for last. Ian McKellen speaks the verse beautifully, of course, but for the first half of the play seems merely to be walking through it, offering no real insight into the man's thinking or feeling.

He gets much better after the storm scene, showing us how Lear's madness is also the chance for him to learn and grow. He doesn't, however, contribute much to a sense of the cost of all this to the king.

For all the horror of the mad scenes or the pathos of the awakening, McKellen's Lear seems remarkably stolid and unaffected - William Gaunt steals the Dover beach scene from him by making us believe in Gloucester's decay far more than we do Lear's.

If this is your first Lear, you could hardly do much better. Minor quirks aside, you'll see the play without the interference of a director's interpretation, and you will be touched and moved by most of the moments that are meant to touch and move you.

If you've seen it before, you'll be seeing it again, with very little to make this one stick in your memory.

Gerald Berkowitz

Pete Postlethwaite, Young Vic Theatre Spring 2009

Pete Postlethwaite is one of those skilled and admired character actors who are the backbone of British theatre, film and TV, one who can be relied on to be the best thing in any show he's in.

But what of that almost unclimbable mountain that is King Lear? Would Postlethwaite bring a special reality and immediacy to the role with his everyman persona? Or would the passions and tragedy of the role be beyond his grasp? The answer to both of those last questions is Yes.

At his best Postlethwaite releases the King from the cushion of all that high poetry and passion, and shows us a human-sized old man in pain. But everything else we expect from the play a sense of larger-than-life, heavens-threatening tragedy proves outside the actor's natural scope.

And at just moments under four hours, the evening may be too much of too little for all but the most dedicated Shakespeareans or Postlethwaite fans.

Postlethwaite is at his best at the beginning and end of the play, making the Lear of the first act more like an old-fashioned working-class father than a king, more perplexed than enraged when his daughter doesn't play by the script he had imagined.

And from the awakening and reunion with Cordelia on, he makes us believe in a man who has gone through some sort of personal hell to achieve a kind of wisdom and peace.

One of my touchstone moments comes just before the Storm Scene, when Lear attempts to curse his two elder daughters and realises in mid-sentence that he has nothing to threaten them with, and Postlethwaite captures all the shock and pathos of a strong man suddenly discovering his impotence.

But almost everywhere else in the play, Lear's anguish and anger and madness all prove too big for the little man Postlethwaite is playing.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the Storm Scene, when director Rupert Goold gives Lear a hand microphone and choreographs an odd ballet around him, implicitly confessing that the words themselves are not generating the energy the moment demands.

Elsewhere, Rupert Goold casts and directs some interesting variants on what Lear veterans might expect. It is nice to see in John Shrapnel a stronger and less wimpy Gloucester than the norm, and in Nigel Cooke a more thoughtful Kent.

Caroline Faber's Goneril is traditionally cold, though Charlotte Randle's Regan plays like one of the coarser slags out of EastEnders. Forbes Masson works nice variations on what has become the expected sadder-but-wiser Fool and Jonjo O'Neill makes Edmund more a cheeky scamp than black villain.

On the other hand, Tobias Menzies' Edgar doesn't really come into his own until the late scenes guiding his blinded father, and Amanda Hale's Cordelia is all but invisible.

Setting the play in modern dress adds little, and sets up a few pointless and jarring anachronisms, like having Goneril's love letter to Edmund be a videotape and forcing the brothers to duel with toy swords.

For some reason Goold makes Goneril pregnant at the start, giving birth in the course of the play. This repeatedly makes nonsense of the text, as when Lear curses her with sterility, or when the tragic ending is nullified by the reminder that there's a legitimate heir waiting just offstage.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Derek Jacobi, Donmar Warehouse Winter 2010-2011

Perhaps not a great King Lear, this is a very fine one, a combination of actor, director, production and venue that complement each other nicely. If some of the grandeur and tragic power of the play isn't quite achieved, the very human story of the man is made real, touching and very immediate. 

Derek Jacobi is an actor of small subtle touches rather than grand gestures, one who can illuminate an often-heard line with a fresh and natural reading and keep us and the play always grounded in the story of real people thinking real thoughts and feeling real emotions as we watch.

From our first sight of him as he enters with his arm around Pippa Bennett-Warner's Cordelia, we understand that we are in the presence of the father more than the king, and we see the idea of the love test come to him as the whim of the moment.

His anger at being crossed surprises even him, and we can tell from the love that Ron Cook's frequently exasperated Fool can't hide and from the loyalty of Michael Hadley's Kent that this is a man who has earned love in the past and will not lose it easily.

That means, of course, that his two eldest daughters can't ever have loved him, and Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell establish their coldness from the start.

McKee's Goneril is gradually revealed to be passionate and impulsive, while Mitchell makes Regan more coolly malevolent (which is interesting, since I have seen other actresses reverse those characterisations equally effectively), but there is never any indication that Lear deserves their nastiness.

Jacobi's very human-sized performance and director Michael Grandage's correspondingly focussed staging might have been lost in a larger theatre, but are exactly right for the intimacy of the Donmar, where even the innovation of abruptly stopping the storm sounds so that Jacoby can whisper the 'Blow, winds' speech as an internal and very internalised monologue comes across as a peep into the old man's soul and not just a gimmick.

Even Grandage's choice of the interval break, after the hovel scenes, illuminates something I hadn't really noticed in all my previous experience of the play - that it breaks quite neatly into two parts, The Torment Of Lear and The War.

The rest of the cast are equally strong and equally led by their director to find fresh and no-larger-than-lifesize characterisations, Alec Newman's Edmund more a hustler-on-the-make than a moustachio-twirling villain and Paul Jesson's Gloucester a sympathetic but not obtrusive little man out of his depth, while Gwilym Lee doesn't overdo the Poor Tom shtick as too many Edgars do.

You may miss in Jacobi some of the rafter-shaking passion others bring to the role, but you are not likely to have encountered a sweeter Dover Beach scene or more moving Awakening scene since Olivier's TV version almost three decades ago.

There is the occasional echo of Olivier in some of Derek Jacobi's line readings, but the most important thing he learned from his mentor is that King Lear is at its core and above all the portrait of an old man in pain - and it is that deeply moving portrait of mortality that is on display here.

Gerald Berkowitz

Greg Hicks, RSC Roundhouse January-February 2011

Two King Lears in as many months, surely an abundance theatregoers in the rest of the world can only envy. And, for all its strengths and virtues, David Farr's RSC production has to come second to the Michael Grandage-Derek Jacobi version at the Donmar.

Greg Hicks is an actor I have admired since his days as an RSC spearcarrier more than 30 years ago. He brings a reality, an authority and a forcefulness along with intelligent and beautiful verse-speaking to every role, frequently stealing scenes even when he's not the central character (c.f. his Soothsayer in this RSC season's Antony and Cleopatra).

But for the first time I've found a limit to his talents. He can't play weak and generate pity.

His Lear is a strong man, both physically he comes in from hunting in an early scene with a wild boar slung across his shoulders and psychologically. He opens the play with a joke, quickly establishing his dominance over the court, and the love test is a confidently self-indulgent game.

His rage, first at Cordelia and then in turn at each of his other daughters, is powerful and frightening, and he stands up to the elements in the storm scene calmly daring them to make him flinch.

What is missing, though, is any sense of Lear being shaken by his daughters' mistreatment and his own growing awareness of his errors.

The Fool (a nicely loving characterisation by Sophie Russell) tries in vain to break through his confidence, and though we're told he's mad in the hovel scene, we just don't see it.

And so the whole emotional spine of the play Lear's breakdown and then his superhuman fight back up to a new wisdom too late just isn't there for us to believe, feel and be shaken by.

When Hicks reappears on Dover Beach with flowers in his hair and his trousers falling down, we might almost take it as a return to the first scene's clowning rather than the unbearable horror it should be.

The awakening and reunion with Cordelia and the final scene have such innate power that they would be moving if I played them, and Hicks does them expertly. But that extra quality, the sense of a man at the absolute end of all that a human can bear, just isn't there and that's where the heart of the play must be.

(Of course I'm being unfair. No one says an actor has to be able to do everything equally well. Gielgud couldn't do macho, Scofield couldn't do stupid. Greg Hicks doesn't disgrace himself in this role. He just reaches his limits in one area, and thus doesn't succeed as fully as another actor, probably not as strong as Hicks in other roles, might.)

Elsewhere the performances are solid without being especially insightful or memorable. Tunji Kasim's Edmund twirls his moustachios in near-Panto villainy, though Charles Aitken is more successful than most in showing us the suffering Edgar beneath the ramblings of Poor Tom.

Kelly Hunter's Goneril is marginally softer than Katy Stephens' Regan, and Samantha Young's Cordelia hardly registers.

As is frequently the case with updatings, setting the play in the First World War neither adds nor detracts anything.

Gerald Berkowitz

Jonathan Pryce, Almeida Theatre Autumn 2012

A rich jewel in a disappointing setting that's Jonathan Pryce's performance in Michael Attenborough's new Almeida production.

Pryce's Lear is excellent, perhaps one of the all-time greats, but no one else is in his league, and he is too often acting in a vacuum, with no one to bounce off, so that some of his best moments are dissipated.

This Lear is a strong man, in body, mind and spirit, nowhere near the doddering oldster he presents himself as or the senile old fool his elder daughters think him.

His anger in the first half of the play is mighty, his curses on each of the daughters in turn truly frightening, his attempts to fight off encroaching madness heroic and moving.

And Pryce's performance in each of the heartbreaking scenes in the second half of the play Dover Beach with Gloucester, the reunion with Cordelia, going off to prison and the horrible final sequence is exquisite.

But none of these moments is as overwhelming as they should be or as Pryce's performance is ready to make them, because too little around him is supporting him.

For reasons that I am sure made sense to him, Attenborough directed both Zoe Waites as Goneril and Jenny Jules as Regan to stand unmoved as Lear pours out the most horrific curses upon them, effectively denying our own experience of those speeches as overpowering.

(All right, it's valuable to see how cold-blooded they are. But audiences need far more to have their sense of Lear validated.)

I can also guess at the thinking that led to playing most of the first half of the play in near-darkness and dressing everyone in similar earth colours. But it would be nice to be able to actually see the actors, and to tell them apart.

The directorial missteps start with the first scene, where Attenborough has clearly decided to fight the usual pattern by making Goneril and Regan deliver their assertions of love with apparent sincerity and not the slightest hint of cynicism or hypocrisy.

That is interesting after all, why should they be so obviously lying that Lear would have to be a fool to miss it?

But he goes wrong by having Phoebe Fox as Cordelia colour her reticence with the rebellious petulance of a bratty teenager. You may not be moved like Lear to disown her for her behaviour, but you want to send her to her room.

And so one of the key assumptions on which the play will be built that this character who we're not going to see again for a couple of hours is the Good Daughter either just isn't there or has to be taken on faith, without evidence.

Later, in the reunion scene, where Cordelia's emotion has to come close to matching Lear's, Fox is so wooden and mechanical that she gives nothing back to Pryce or to us. (It doesn't help that she's wigged and made up so that she looks like Joan Crawford, an image difficult to sympathise with.)

There are a couple of directorial touches that do contribute to the play. It's nice to see Trevor Fox's Fool actually getting Lear to laugh a few times, and Clive Wood's Gloucester is a strong and attractive figure, so that even his desire to kill himself earns some respect.

But everyone else ranges from adequate downward, and too few provide a context for Jonathan Pryce's performance.

If you see this King Lear, keep your eye on the star, nap when he's offstage, ignore everyone else, and try to imagine how really great this production could be if he weren't acting alone.

Gerald Berkowitz

Simon Russell Beale, Olivier Theatre  Winter-Spring 2014

At three and a half hours (two of them before the interval), the National Theatre's new King Lear would have to be extraordinary for me to be comfortable recommending it to everyone. And it's just very good. 

The best thing about it, unsurprisingly, is Simon Russell Beale's performance as Lear. As is his habit, Beale finds new, very human and very illuminating sides to the character that other actors have missed, enriching the play even for those who know it well. 

He is the first actor I've seen brave enough to make the king unlikeable, a cold and nasty man that even the Fool has difficulty loving. (It is telling and believable that his first impulse in the Awakening Scene is to be angry at being returned to painful consciousness, and the scene then draws all its intended pathos just because it doesn't beg for it.) 

This is the first Lear who really convinced me that he was so accustomed to instant and unquestioning obedience that its absence could shake his hold on reality that is, the first one whose madness made real and thus very moving human sense. 

Of course there are sacrifices that accompany this bold interpretation. Few of the usually reliable tear-jerking scenes Dover Beach, off to prison, even the end have all the easy emotional effect we've come to expect, and Lear's scenes with the Fool lack the expected warmth. But students of the play will want very much to see how it is reshaped by the central actor's subtle changes. 

Unfortunately director Sam Mendes seems to have devoted all his imagination and energy to guiding his star, and very few others in the cast bring much to the table. 

Kate Fleetwood's cold Goneril and Anna Maxwell Martin's sexy Regan are stock interpretations, and even Olivia Vinall's spunky Cordelia is within familiar bounds. Stanley Townsend's Kent and Adrian Scarborough's Fool are solid performances that somehow disappear even as you're watching them. 

Sam Troughton's Edmond is introduced in this modern dress production as a suit-and-tie bureaucrat weaselling his way up the corporate ladder, and never really escapes the facelessness of the conception. Only Stephen Boxer's Gloucester and Tom Brooke's Edgar, each growing and maturing through suffering, hold our attention and sympathy throughout. 

Meanwhile, the modern dress does not evoke images of twentieth-century despots and displaced persons, as a programme note hopes, but just leads to the usual awkwardness of people dressed as commandos speaking of swords while fighter jets are heard overhead. (The climactic Edgar-Edmund encounter is not a chivalric duel or even a street-style knife fight, but just a quick and unattractive stabbing.) 

And stretching the first act past the blinding of Gloucester means that the audience exits for the interval with their horror and pity for that secondary character, rather than Lear, dominant in their minds. 

Fans of Simon Russell Beale and students of the play will find the central performance a sufficient reward for their dedication and endurance, but others might want to wait for a production that is less of a challenge and has more to offer around its centre.

Gerald Berkowitz

Glenda Jackson, Old Vic Theatre  Autumn 2016

Released finally from her twenty-three year exile as Member of Parliament for Hampstead, Glenda Jackson returns to the stage, not by easing herself back in, but with the clear demonstration that she has lost none of her power as she takes on one of the most challenging roles in world drama. 

But she shines brightly in a disappointing production that is adequate at best and too empty at worst. 

Jackson is not the first actress to take on Lear, and her gender rapidly becomes irrelevant as she wholly inhabits the character. If anything, her physical slightness brings colours to the King that more 'manly' actors couldn't, especially in the more pity-inspiring later scenes. 

I've come to believe that even the greatest actors can only hope to triumph in either the first half of this play or the second. 

A great actor can frighten us with the power of Lear's anger, dreadful curses and challenge to the elements, or move us to tears with the portrait of the broken old man straining his way back to sanity and wisdom too late. But not both. 

Jackson simply doesn't dominate the play in the first half. Her sudden anger and rejection of Cordelia seems more pique than rage, and neither her curses at her other daughters nor her struggle against approaching madness have much energy to them. 

And it is virtually an admission of defeat when the actress has to be miked and her voice amplified to create even the suggestion of an even fight against the elements in the storm scene. 

But then, almost immediately after that scene, when Lear's story begins to be about frailty and the internal struggle toward wisdom, Glenda Jackson hits the heights all Lears aspire to. 

Every touchstone scene from then on the prayer for the poor, the 'unaccommodated man' reaction to Poor Tom, Dover Beach, the awakening and reunion with Cordelia, the off-to-prison scene and the heartbreaking climax is as great, as deeply explored and as moving as any actor could have the ambition of achieving.

(The only time I've ever seen those moments better is the legendary 1980s TV version with Laurence Olivier. And Olivier didn't get the first half of the play right either.) 

But Jackson's triumphs exist in a near-vacuum, and the biggest disappointments of the evening must be laid at the feet of director Deborah Warner. 

Warner is one of the most talented and sensitive directors around, but too few of the powers we have come to expect from her are evident here. 

You go to Warner for brilliant new insights into the text, but the interpretation of the play here varies no further from tradition than putting it in modern dress. 

You go for fresh or deeper characterisations that convince while guiding you to see the play anew, but find far too few. 

Morfydd Clark's Cordelia is a little feistier than usual from the start, making her transition to military general a little smoother, but both Celia Imrie's buttoned-down Goneril and Jane Horrocks' sensual Regan are strictly by-the-numbers with nothing we haven't seen before. 

Simon Manyonda's Edmund is introduced as a body-builder exercising and Sargon Yelda's Kent affects a burlesque Jewish accent when in disguise, but in neither case does the gimmick add anything. 

You go to Deborah Warner for clear, intelligent and insightful speaking of the words, but too often here the admittedly dense text descends into gabble. 

And you go to director Warner for a production focused on the human experience of the characters, but here she seems at least as interested in the pretty stage pictures generated by the set (credited to Warner and Jean Kalman) as in anything going on in front of it. 

And the more you are aware of, say, the clever playing around with shadows in the background, the less you are paying attention to the play.

But of course all that really matters is that Glenda Jackson is back, and that is cause for celebration.

Gerald Berkowitz

Antony Sher, RSC at Barbican Theatre  November-December 2016

2010: In Arthur Miller's Broken Glass Antony Sher plays a little man confused when life doesn't make the sense he thought it did, and exasperated and irritated by his confusion. It's an appropriate and effective characterisation. 

2015: In Miller's Death Of A Salesman Sher gives essentially the same performance. It works here, too. 

2016: In King Lear Sher gives essentially the same performance once again. 

This time it is not so much wrong as inadequate. That confused little man is there in Shakespeare's King, but so is very much more, that Sher and director Gregory Doran don't even begin to capture. 

This muted and too rarely tragic RSC production misses almost all of what we come to King Lear for. 

There is almost no sense of Lear's capacity for monumental anger in the early scenes, of his valiant battle against encroaching madness as his world collapses, and of the strength of character that enables him to come out of madness a better man than he was, though sadly too late. 

There is little sense of Lear as larger than life at all, and too little to inspire either awe or pity.

And the fact that nobody else in the large cast gives a particularly fresh or insightful performance lays the responsibility for the production's general weakness largely on director Doran. 

(Yes, I can imagine a deliberately muted and earth-bound Lear. Peter Brook and Paul Scofield tried something like that in the 1962 RSC production later filmed. But director and actor there gave the man and thus the play a monumental solidity and stature that proved an effective alternate route to tragedy.) 

There are almost random moments in this new production that hint at what might have been. Though Sher makes Lear's rage at Cordelia seem little more than pique, his sterility curse on Goneril has awful power, and Nia Gwynne has the sense to show the woman physically shaken by it. 

Sher's scenes with the Fool go by almost unnoticed, but the 'I will do such things' speech is one of the best I've encountered, as Lear realises in mid-threat that he actually has nothing to threaten with. 

The storm scene relies too much on staging devices, as Lear has to be raised on a plinth before an impressive backdrop, to generate the excitement others have managed on a bare stage. 

And Sher doesn't even have the actor's triumph of battling the elements to a draw with his voice, as the sound effects courteously stop when he speaks and only thunder when he pauses. 

In the second half the normally foolproof Dover Beach scene goes by almost unnoticed, and the awakening generates little emotion, largely because of a wooden performance by Natalie Simpson as Cordelia, giving Sher nothing to act against. 

The off-to-prison scene works on the simple level of a loving father comforting his beloved daughter, and the final scene opens with the greatest and most soul-shaking Howls I've ever encountered. But that is too little too late. 

Elsewhere Paapa Essiedu generates some nasty energy as Edmund and Oliver Johnstone is a more subdued Edgar than usual, to good effect. Neither Kent, Goneril or Regan is given much individuality or reality, and we are more aware of Graham Turner working hard as the Fool than of the character. 

King Lear as Willy Loman an intriguing idea, but ultimately it just doesn't work.

Gerald Berkowitz

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