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King Lear

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
4 stars
It’s been some time since Shakespeare’s mightiest imagined history epic
has been seen in full pomp in these parts, but Michael Grandage’s
stately and grandiloquent take on these touring dates of his Donmar
Warehouse production has event written all over it. Central to this of
course is the appearance of Derek Jacobi in the title role, although
the full sixteen-strong ensemble contribute to the overall picture in
spades.

Grandage sets things on Christopher Oram’s dappled barn of a set, where
Jacobi’s initially impish and attention-seeking king plays the sort of
games with his three little girls that only those in their dotage can
get away with. Only his favourite, Cordelia, alas, recognises how every
daddy’s girl needs to fly the nest, even as her big sisters play a more
ambitious game. The casting of the sisters unveils a fascinatingly
complex set of archetypes, with Gina McKee’s Anglo-Saxon steeliness as
Goneril contrasting increasingly sharply with the Celtic fire of
Justine Mitchell’s Regan and the guileless defiance of Pippa
Bennett-Warner’s Cordelia. Elsewhere, Ron Cook’s Fool is bitterly
abrasive, while Alec Newman’s Edmund is fullof thrusting urgency.

In a play that is as much about fathers and sons as fathers and
daughters and inter-gender sibling rivalry, it’s the head of the clan
who stands out most. In Jacobi’s hands, Lear’s emotionally bruised veer
into the irrational is never simply mad. His crucial and traditionally
bombastic big storm speech is here delivered by Jacobi in a breathily
echoed stillness, as if the elements themselves were enraptured briefly
before erupting into chaos once more. When the bird-song twitters into
life as the play ends, however, the rising sun heralds the most
appositely brightest of dawns.

The Herald, March 9th 2011

ends

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