The play’s the thing, not playing up

(From Dec. 2016) Having just spent 24 hours training to the Old Vic and back, some 460 miles all told, I have to say that, despite Glenda Jackson’s stamina at 80,  Lear remains the same daft story that no amount of disbelief-suspension in me can accept. Miss Jackson was remarkable in her memory, movement, in her almost demonic glares and snarls; but the moves she was given, irrelevant much of the time, and the way she sounded like the Wicked Witch of the West when Lear was required to show great anger too often made her a parody.

Above all she at no time at the beginning looked regal. The play’s about a Great King laying aside great trappings and despite himself becoming Mr Ordinary. This has to be visualised in the surrounds of great pomp, and above all else in costume. Tony Sher at least got that right. But this king first entered wearing a red woollen cardie, and he ended the first half in his shirt and underpants which seems to be taking Common Man to a Brian Rix extreme Shakespeare probably didn’t have in mind.

I was hoping Miss Jackson would be the focus of my attention. And she at least (and Karl Johnson as Gloucester) never forgot that the Words Are All in Shakespeare. Sadly this was forgotten by most of the rest – especially a gabbling Fool, a gabbling Edmund, a gabbling Edgar – the director simply intent on making this “her” production, with Edmund mooning the audience; Edgar full frontal bollock-naked; unfunny distracting farce with the Fool and a fridge-full of cans; a character entering and saying “Oh hello Mike”; “blanket” replaced by “rubbish bag” in “Nay, he reserved a blanket, else we had been all shamed”… and so on and on. Nobody eventually seemed that bothered about the words, as long as they got their cheap laugh. I wonder why they call themselves actors rather than comics?  4 stars to Glenda, but really low ratings for the rest.

I note none of the critics saw it as I did.  Or perhaps nobody dared stand up and put down Deborah Warner?