My quest to see every Shakespeare play at the RSC continues, with Gregory Doran’s production of King Lear starring Antony Sher. I must admit that Lear has never been my favourite Shakespeare play. I’ve seen several productions over the years but none of them have truly clicked with me (the Jonathan Pryce production at the Almeida probably came closest). This one was no exception, though I enjoyed it more than most.
With a lavish cloak, hoisted on a high platform, Sher’s weighty Lear is an imposing figure. Gradually stripped of his outward vestments, he still retains some of his majesty. His howls in the final tragic scene were a little too mannered, but his weeping at Cordelia’s death was genuine and moving. In this production it was the male characters that stood out: I particularly liked Paapa Essiedu’s Edmund, lending this interesting character a layer of menace. David Troughton was also excellent as Gloucester, with Oliver Johnstone a strong Edgar. There were also good performances from Kelly Williams, Nia Gwynne and Natalie Simpson as Lear’s daughters, particularly the latter who lent the rather dull character of Cordelia an appealing sympathy.
I liked the staging, with its use of pagan motifs: performed alongside Cymbeline, it shares a prehistoric British setting with that play, but whereas that production takes an almost modern tone, this is resolutely ancient. Peasants wandering on and off stage throughout make it clear that poverty and want are part of this ancient world: as the royals suffer, so do their subjects. The only part I wasn’t so keen on was the incongruous use of a clear box in which to stage the eye-gouging scene, although those audience members closest to the stage were probably relieved not to be spattered with blood.
Not a perfect Lear, then, and not one to cure me of my antipathy to this play; but better than most, and one I’m glad to have seen.