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RSC KING LEAR: Barbican Theatre, London

Published by: Elaine Pinkus on 18th Nov 2016 | View all blogs by Elaine Pinkus

The Barbican theatre, London, is currently host to Greg Doran’s King Lear following its successful run at Stratford-upon-Avon and is set to be a resounding success once more. The minimalistic staging design (Nick Turner) is supported by effective lighting (Tim Mitchell) and atmospheric sound (Jonathan Ruddick) that jointly confirm the turmoil that takes place before our eyes.

Recognising that he no longer has the strength to continue his reign, King Lear decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. Demanding declarations of filial love for their father, Lear’s anger reaches disproportionate levels when Cordelia, his youngest and once favourite daughter, refuses to exaggerate her love for him and is banished. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan inherit the kingdom and their greed and lust for power culminates in the final tragedy.

Lear photograph Ellie Kurttz

Antony Sher: King Lear

From the onset, we can see that Lear is descending into a fog of madness. But the modern audience is only too aware of the degenerative dementia that has become almost 'epidemic' in society today and the perspective shifts from madness into the mental decline of senility. Once an all powerful tyrant, Sher portrays the confusion of an old man who has lost his way in the world. He stumbles, he rants and then slips into a calm, a peace and a tolerance morphing into a different persona. The moments on the heath with Edgar (Oliver Johnstone) and then with the Earl of Glocester (David Troughton) appeal in perhaps the most humanistic way. Here, these powerful characters, appear as two old friends sitting together peacefully and sharing a moment of genuine friendship. In their vulnerability, they expose the tragedy of their lives and the wonder of life's meaning, giving full clarity to Edgar’s ‘reason in madness’.

Lear and Gloucester photograph Ellie Kurttz

Antony Sher and David Troughton (Earl of Gloucester)

Recurring themes of blindness, madness and power are played convincingly by this excellent cast and we do not doubt for one moment the awfulness of Edmond (Paapa Essiedu) and his treachery and Goneril (Nia Gwynne) and Regan (Kelly Williams) in their unfathomable greed. Such themes echo in 21st century world politics and offer an uncomfortable familiarity, which makes this play highly accessible to its audience. Is there a resolution or closure? I think not as the audience left the auditorium deep in conversation and thought trying to make sense of a world gone mad.

Sher’s Lear took us on a journey and his most poignant moments were when he spoke with calmness and deliberation. He was ably joined by Troughton whose tragedy was heartbreaking and Antony Byrne as the Earl of Kent who offered calm and order.

The audience’s reaction was testament to the excellence of this production. I would recommend this as a 21st century production of the powerful tragedy of King Lear.

Photography: Ellie Kurttz

Royal Shakespeare Company – King Lear

Thu 10 Nov–Fri 23 Dec 2016, Barbican Theatre

Silk Street London
Underground: Barbican, Moorgate

Box office: 0845 120 7511





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