Review by Harry Salisbury
In the world of theatre, there are few names bigger than King Lear, Shakespeare’s tragic king whose folly leads him to descend into madness.
It only seems fitting therefore, that Shakespeare’s most revered role has been given to a perhaps equally large and revered name, Anthony Sher.
A grand procession enters from the back of the stage. Lear is carried on inside a glass box on the shoulders his subjects, the power and authority of such a figure proceeds him and an atmosphere of fear and anticipation fills the room.
This spectacular entrance however, is met with a somewhat slow start for Anthony Sher, whose performance in the first half at points seems to drag. Sher’s interplay with the Fool however, is fantastic.
Graham Turner is wonderfully multi-faceted, showing both the comedic sides of Shakespeare’s tragedy, and a menacing and dark undertone, which creates a palpable tension between the Fool and Lear.
Lear is rejected, first by his eldest daughter Goneril, fantastically performed by Nia Gwynne, then by his second daughter Regan, whose portrayal by Kelly Williams is brilliantly cold and dismissive, especially as she watches her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, bleeding to death and being lowered into the stage in a large glass box.
From this rejection, Lear recognises his folly, and rapidly descends into insanity with Sher’s performance here astounding.
At times wild and terrifying, at others funny, Sher reaches new heights, quite literally, as he and Graham Turner are lifted into the maelstrom of the storm on a large stage riser.
Director Gregory Doran – never one to shy away from spectacle and grandiosity – has clearly worked closely with designer Niki Turner to create an visually impressive production, exciting in its own right, and as a reflection of Lear’s madness.
In an extremely strong cast, it is difficult to single out individual performances, however David Troughton’s Earl of Gloucester is powerfully moving as he stumbles blind across the stage, led by his legitimate son Edgar, played by Oliver Johnstone, who has been driven mad by his illegitimate brother Edmund, the wonderful Paapa Essiedu.
King Lear is a difficult burden for any cast, yet this weight is carried easily by Anthony Sher and the RSC team, albeit at times slowly.
Once the storm has subsided however, Sher stands strong, once more proving he is more than worthy of such a role.
King Lear runs at the RST until October 15. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.