City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

King Lear, Theatre Royal, Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 13 March 2011

Derek Jacobi as King Lear.jpg
Show Details
Donmar Warehouse
Michael Grandage (director), Christopher Oram (design), Neil Austin (Lighting)
Derek Jacobi(Lear), Michael Hadley (Kent), Paul Jesson (Gloucester), Gina McKee (Goneril), Justine Mitchell (Regan), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Cordelia), Ron Cook (Fool).
Running time: 

Regarded alongside Hamlet as one of the greatest plays in English literature, King Lear explores the very nature of human existence, themes of love, duty, morality, justice, good and evil. In this touring production, the renowned Shakespearian and classic actor Derek Jacobi takes on this epic, complex role with gentle, emotional insight.

The stage is surrounded floor to ceiling by a giant stripped, bleached wooden box. This virtually enclosed space serves as Castles, wild moorland heath and high cliffs of Dover as we follow Lear and his Fool, Gloucester and Edgar on their spiritual journeys of self discovery to find redemption and peace of mind.

Lear, the ageing King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters.  Goneril and Regan express deep and loyal affection with gushing exaggeration while Cordelia remains silent saying she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and disowns Cordelia who is banished from the kingdom to France.

Having distributed land and crown to his daughters, the imperious King fails to relinquish his power or army of one hundred knights; he behaves with demanding, demonic anger, rather than with gratitude for their hospitality. Lear believes in “the bias of nature” whereby parents and children should love and protect each other. This is the tragic story of a man of great prosperity falling from grace into a weakened mental state through his sense of loss.

The strongest, most moving scenes are between Lear and his Fool, their witty conversations of jokes and rhymes exploring ideas of sanity and madness, and the series of fierce debates between Lear and his elder daughters.  Goneril and Regan (performed with feminine, foxy guile by Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell), plot against their father, as they step glamorously  into their new queenly shoes.

A few quibbles - the low volume of speech, especially in the first scenes makes it difficult to hear the words from the dress circle, and Gloucester and Lear with identical white beards and black gowns may initially be confusing. While lighting and sound effects are used well in the storm sequence, additional music, rain water and theatrical settings would enhance atmosphere and drama.  For those unfamiliar with the play, especially young students, it was surely an omission to have no plot synopsis in the programme.

Overall, however, this is a rare opportunity to see such a brilliant actor as Derek Jacobi, leading this fine company in a precise and intelligent production. Just listen to the poetry of Shakespeare’s verse and the simple storytelling performed with pace and passion.

Show times

Glasgow Theatre Royal
8 – 12 March 2011

Milton Keynes Theatre
15 – 19 March 2011

The Lowry, Salford
22 – 26 March 2011

Richmond Theatre
29 March – 2 April 2011

Bath Theatre Royal
5 – 9 April 2011

Hall for Cornwall
12 – 16 April 2011