Review: King Lear at Stratford

From Richard Lutz at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

It was only last winter that I wrote a review of the Stratford production of King Lear. But a year is a long time in the whacky world of Thesbo-land and since the RSC has launched its new transformed theatre, it’s time to re stage one of Shakespeare’s big time tragedies.

To cheekily quote and steal from that earlier review that cheekily quoted and stole from the programme notes, the play isn’t about looking into the abyss. It is the abyss. Murder, suicide, blinding, hanging, duplicity, madness, more madness and a wild windblown heath that would resemble Northern Scotland on a bad day. King Lear has it all.

But the words outstrip all. They are knotted, knarled, heavy and twisted like the wood of a timeless English oak. Greg Hicks, in the main role, slowly wildly goes mad and seems to enjoy showing the audience his knobbly knees and his underwear as he wallows in insanity. His devious daughters are nasty pieces of work, indeed, intent on squeezing the most out of greed and falsehood. And poor Gloucester has a heck of a time dealing with getting a drill bit ripped into his eyes. Ahh well, just an average day in pre Saxon England, I guess.

Maybe Shakespeare had one cup of Rhenish wine too many down at the Codpiece and Quill as he tried to write a contemporary metaphor for the Jacobin reign of Charles the First in the wake of the failed Guy Fawkes plot.

But the real star of this relaunched production is the new theatre. Lear is the first play to be presented in the area. It resembles the Courtyard Theatre that the RSC had to work out of for two years while the big re-build went on.

And the space works. Sight lines are clear, acoustics are pin sharp and the coffee is better. Plus word on the street is that there are more women’s facilities for the interval for those vital comfort breaks.

So, five stars to the new theatre that sits on the Avon like a restless swan. And the usual thumbs up for a play that I- and the rest of the squabble of critics- reviewed a year ago.

*King Lear is at the RSC until 2nd April