King Lear, Norwich

CHARLES ROBERTS Mighty play. Powerfully defined production. Inspired performance. Big words! But this tremendous evening in the theatre deserves them all the way.

CHARLES ROBERTS

Mighty play. Powerfully defined production. Inspired performance. Big words! But this tremendous evening in the theatre deserves them all the way.

If there is one word to describe every aspect of this English Touring Theatre production it is – clarity. Clarity of text, of interpretation, of character study, of meaning.

It is 21 years since Timothy West last played Lear, and brought it to Norwich. I was there and remember it vividly. Under Stephen Unwin's finely judged direction, one does not look back and compare. Rather one speedily becomes enmeshed in the present moment, carried along by a dazzling pace and continuity which feed the feeling that one is looking in upon a great Grecian tragedy.

The judgment which governs every moment of this hypnotic, 2¾-hour production is echoed in the brilliant, modern spareness of the set – a raised rectangular dais within a white panorama, and above it a terrestrial orb which transmutes into a skull. Yet within the setting, this essentially traditional performance sits admirably.

Timothy West's Lear is wonderfully human and touchingly vulnerable. Was he ever a great king? you ask yourself. Probably not, is the answer. Rather a man who has had his own way for so long that the merest challenge brings him close to mental crack-up.

Most Read

But it is that very cracking-up that makes him so intensely moving. It is so gradual, so realised and recognised by its victim – and so inevitable in bringing him to a kind of wisdom and redemption. When the moment comes, West's speaking of those few lines beginning...“Oh let me not be mad”...wring one's very soul. If one had never read or seen this tale before, that moment would have warned a great tragic dénouement was lying in wait.

Jessica Turner and Catherine Kanter are Goneril and Regan, elegant, cold (save in their shared sexual lust for the bastard Edmund), dangerous, two Dark Ages harpies who step into our own time. Dominic Rickhards is the Bastard, chill shades of Iago, smooth, sensual, revelling in his villainy.

Rachel Pickup is a lovely Cordelia, visually beautiful, and suffusing the princess with grace of manner as of word – a heavenly spirit indeed.

A special evening, warmly recommended.

t King Lear continues at the Theatre Royal until Saturday October 12. Box office: 01603 630000.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter