Gestapo outfits, military marching, and long rifles. No it’s not a Second World War drama, but the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of King Lear. The play remains a popular choice for the company, as this is their fourth version in ten years, this time with Greg Hicks playing the title role and David Farr directing.
It tells the story of the ageing Lear who decides to step down from power and divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters. He puts them through a test asking each of them how much they love him, whilst the two eldest flatter his ego, Cordelia simply says she loves him “according to my bond, nor more nor less.” Lear is enraged and disowns her, in an almost reverse of the Prodigal son parable he soon learns that his rash decision has set in motion a string of tragedies.
The opening is uncertain and arduous; it is set in a warehouse, but the characters shift from military garb to medieval gowns. As the chaos ensues, however, so too does our captivation. The war-like imagery works well reflecting Lear’s inner turmoil. “See better Lear”, he is told by Kent, but the subtle sound of taps dripping, the flickering lights, and fog convey how it is difficult for Lear to see both physically and metaphorically. Jon Bausor’s design is taken one step further to create one of the strongest moments of the play, as Lear delivers the climax to the first half under a spotlight, rain, and thunder, Hicks gives a powerful performance of Lear’s madness.
In Hicks we have a Lear who is commanding over the language and the stage, and empathetic in his anger and his misery. Kathryn Hunter, who once played Lear, creates a great doll-like, doe-eyed, and direct Fool. And Samantha Young’s Cordelia is played with the correct devotion, but her delivery is rehearsed rather than emotional. The production almost takes over the performances, it’s King Lear meets Band of Brothers.
Runs till 26 August.
To see or not to see: * * *