King Lear – The Courtyard Theatre Stratford Upon Avon

The Bard has been a bit like buses lately, a glut of Hamlets (Tennant, Law, Simms and Kinnear) followed by a rush of King Lears. Sir Ian Mckellen gave us his Lear a couple of years ago, Sir Derek Jacobi is about to play the role at the Donmar and currently at the RSC Greg Hicks gives us his Lear.

Although un-knighted, Hicks more than holds his own against his other Lear contemporaries and proves to be the lynch pin of this gripping production. Haunted by the strains of the throne, his Lear seems to age visibly in front of the audiences eyes.

David Farr’s production seems to resonate with renewed relevance as a reflection on old age, mental health and the care of our elderly. Set in an indeterminate period, with a mix of period and modern costumes this is a Kingdom literally falling apart. Walls tumble, lights fail and familial bonds themselves collapse.

Visually stunning with Jon Basur’s sparse set atmospherically lit by Jon Clark, this Lear creates a series of impressive tableaux.

Although the stage effects impress it is the power of the performance that make this Lear work. Hick’s central performance is one of understated intensity, showing the inner torments facing the discarded monarch. There are also equally impressive performances from his three daughters, Kelly Hunter and Katy Stephen’s calculating Goneril and Regan and Samantha Young’s misunderstood Cordelier. There are also compelling performances from Charles Aitken (Edgar) and Kathryn Hunter’s tiny nimble fool nearly steels the show.

Farr’s direction focuses on the text yet also manages to make one of Shakespeare’s most heavy wonderfully accessible. Comic moments are perfectly balanced with moments of sheer despair.

This timeless production does what the RSC does best. It takes a classic and makes it timely, relevant and accessible without loosing the heart of the original.

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