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A CurtainUp London London Review
King Lear

You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age; wretched in both!
— King Lear
King Lear
Greg Hicks as King Lear (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I can't believe it — my most unfavourite of the great Shakespearean tragedies King Lear and another production so soon after the triumph of Derek Jacobi and Michael Grandage at the Donmar, that makes it an interesting and compelling play. Of course David Farr quietly produces masterpiece theatre and here as director he makes over three hours on the stage gripping and intense. Learning his craft under Sir Peter Hall, Greg Hicks is a champion of the spoken verse, which he imbues with his own distinctive timbre, his magnificent and resonating speaking voice. Here the long white wig gives him majesty to match the wonderful sound of Shakespeare's famous lines and to produce a Lear who we care for and respect.

It is Hicks' night as he disinherits his youngest daughter Cordelia (Samantha Young) only to realise later, in between insanity, his terrible and life changing mistake. The storm scene is truly electrifying as Hicks stands on a bare platform in a downpour of rain. Wearing a crown of grasses and reeds, with great affection Lear cradles the blind Gloucester, both men sharing the bond of having been mistaken in their offspring. Kelly Hunter is a poisonous and acidic, sexually predatory Goneril and the beautiful Katy Stephens a dangerous Regan.

This is the first time I was aware of the parade of barons who are the landowners and lords of Lear's divided kingdom. The design has a curiosity with its melange for the dukes of the realm of medieval dress with wolf skins cloaks and cross gartered Chaucerian trousers and the uniforms for warfare, battle dress, helmets of the First World War. What point can the designer be making other than to say that the conflicts in Lear are similar spread over 1000 years? Essentially the nature of warfare changes after the First World War to one of mass destruction where battles are fought in the air as well as by sea and by land based armies. The set too reflects the breakdown of a kingdom with its rusted ironwork backdrop shattering and high above the cracked dirty panes of glass of a disused building.

Sophie Russell has taken over the role of the Fool from departing Kathryn Hunter and she is a pleasant and kind diversion for the monarch. Darrell d'Silva is that perfect gentleman the Duke of Kent and Geoffrey Freshwater heart rending as the cruelly blinded Duke of Gloucester. Charles Aitken masquerading in the most inexplicable of Shakespeare's characters, Poor Tom, finds his father and cares for him in a disguise that almost bares all to the sighted. Fresh faced Tunji Kasim as the bastard brother Edgar doesn't quite have the malice of the part until his later scenes. The skirmish with huge broadswords between the brothers is genuinely exciting. John Mackay again is cast as a decent man, here the Duke of Albany, married to Goneril but distancing himself from her and her lover Edgar.

Despite his venomous cursing of his daughter Goneril's fertility and so too what would have been his own grandchildren, Hicks' Lear has a flawed humanity which we all can relate to.

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King Lear
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by David Farr

Starring: Greg Hicks, Kelly Hunter, Katy Stephens, Sophie Russell, Samantha Young
With: Charles Aitken, Adam Burton, Brian Doherty, Darrell D'Silva, Philip Edgerley, Geoffrey Freshwater, James Gale, Paul Hamilton, Ansu Kabia, Tunji Kasim, John Mackay, Sandy Neilson, Christopher Saul, Clarence Smith, James Tucker, Larrington Walker, Roger Watkins, Hannah Young
Designed by Jon Bausor
Lighting: Jon Clark
Movement by Ann Yee
Fights by Kate Waters
Music by Keith Clouston
Running time: Three hours 20 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 800 1110
Booking at The Roundhouse to 4th February 2011 and then 23rd February to 2nd April 2011 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon and then at the Lincoln Center Festival Park Avenue Armory 15th July to 12th August 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 25th January 2011 performance at The Roundhouse Chalk Farm Road London NW1 5TH (Tube: Chalk Farm)

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