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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Theatre - King Lear - RSC Stratford

Star rating – 8/10

Rightly or wrongly, the success of a King Lear production stands or falls by the person playing the lead role – in this case Greg Hicks. The last time I saw him was in the RSC’s production of ‘Julius Caesar’ in 2009, and I have to say I was glad then that his part was a relatively small one in the scheme of the play, as he was more Mick Jagger than Caesar. So I was hoping not to get a rock and roll version of Lear – and he does not deliver one. But more of this later.

This was the first time I had seen this, considered to be one of the bards greatest, if not the greatest, play. And overall it did not disappoint - but then I do love a good tragedy. The powerful themes of the play of respect for the ruling monarch, no matter whether they have earned it or not; and of the destructive forces that can be unleashed by children who do not respect their parents, are clearly told.

The cast is almost totally impressive, with a complicated plot made easy to follow by the clear direction of David Farr, and the impressive performances of many, including Katy Stephens as Regan, one of Lear’s more disrespectful and scheming daughters; Samantha Young as Cordelia, his wronged and faithful youngest daughter; and Tunji Kasim, as Gloucester’s evil illegitimate son Edmund. I would just question why all the baddies were played by black actors – probably not the most enlightened but of casting ever.

So back to Lear himself – supposed to be a man of 80 – played by the considerably younger than that Greg Hicks. He is undoubtedly a great actor – and I don’t want to find fault – but I do have a major problem with the way he acts and in particular with the way he intonates his words. It is not, as a woman behind me thought ‘like a Dalek’ - not quite as bad as that – but it does sound and feel very unnatural to me.

So maybe not the greatest Lear ever, and there are big shoes to fill in that regard indeed, but a great overall production which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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