King Lear

Glenda Jackson at the Old Vic Theatre 2016

Ian McKellen at the New London Theatre 2007 for the Royal Shakespeare Company

Corin Redgrave at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2005 for the Royal Shakespeare Company

Timothy West at the Old Vic Theatre in 2003 for English Touring Theatre


King Lear with Glenda Jackson 2016

Previewed 25 October 2016, Opened 4 November 2016, Closed 2 December 2016 at the Old Vic Theatre in London

A major revival of William Shakespeare's King Lear starring Glenda Jackson in the title role and directed by Deborah Warner.

Lear's fall from the noble king to broken man remains one of Shakespeare's most heartbreaking plays. Lear, King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. But when Cordelia refuses to make a public declaration of love for her father she is disinherited and married to the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent is banished by King Lear for daring to defend Cordelia while the two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, and their husbands inherit the kingdom.

Now, a quarter of a century after she gave up acting for politics, Glenda Jackson returns to the London West End stage to play the title role in King Lear along with an outstanding company including Celia Imrie as 'Goneril', Jane Horrocks as 'Regan', Rhys Ifans as the 'Fool' and Harry Melling as 'Edgar' with William Chubb as 'Albany', Morfydd Clark as 'Cordelia', David Hargreaves as 'Old Man', Karl Johnson as 'Gloucester', Stephen Kennedy as 'Gentleman', Simon Manyonda as 'Edmond', Gary Sefton as 'Oswald', Danny Webb as 'Cornwall', Sargon Yelda as 'Kent', Fehinti Balogun, Fiston Barek, Bessie Carter, Jonathan Coote, George Eggay, Matt Gavan, Joanne Howarth, Mark Rose and James Staddon. Directed by Deborah Warner with sets by Jean Kalman and Deborah Warner, costumes by Zeb Lalljee, lighting by Jean Kalman, and music and sound by Mel Mercier.

When this production opened at the Old Vic Theatre in November 2016, Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard praised how "Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage is a triumph... Her performance isn’t just a remarkable feat of stamina. She finds revealing readings of well-known lines and uses her voice with forensic precision... Glenda Jackson is immense. Even though we’re talking about a performer who has won two Oscars, this will surely rate as one of her greatest achievements." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph highlighted that "Glenda Jackson is tremendous as King Lear. No ifs, no buts. In returning to the stage at the age of 80, 25 years after her last performance, she has pulled off one of those 11th-hour feats of human endeavour that will surely be talked about for years to come by those who see it... The rest of the production - a long, but not insufferably so, evening - is a mixed bag." Michael Billington in the Guardian said "it would be easy to regret Glenda Jackson’s 25-year absence from the stage but she has lost none of her innovative instinct... Deborah Warner’s production offers a clear framework for a shattering performance... Even if Hamlet and Macbeth are greater plays, Jackson’s performance catches perfectly the zigzag patterns of Lear’s mix of insight and insanity. This is 'reason in madness' to the very life." Ann Treneman in the Times noted that this was "an almost never boring three and a half hours... the themes of Lear — treachery, madness, cruelty, familial deceit and dementia — do not date. The cast is stellar and the brightest of all is Glenda Jackson, returning to the stage at the age of 80... What a comeback. She's fearless here as Lear, hard as nails, furious, capricious but also frail and vulnerable." Neil Norman in the Daily Express thought that "as event theatre for high-minded theatre-goers, it doesn't get much better... Glenda Jackson is studied and meticulous, clapping her hands to punctuate her speeches and exercising her vocal range from querulous fluting to acidic growl." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail wrote: "Glenda Jackson, 80, makes a memorable return to the London stage – as King Lear – after her long, self-banishment to Parliament... Miss Jackson’s casting, like much else in Deborah Warner’s Brechtian production, could be seen as a cheap stunt... Yet thanks to its magnetic star this show is undeniably theatrical."

Celia Imrie's West End credits include Nicholas De Jongh's play Plague Over England (Duchess Theatre 2009), Victoria Wood's musical Acorn Antiques the Musical (Haymarket Theatre 2005); Jane Horrocks's London stage credits include Ayub Khan Din's East is East (Trafalgar Studio 2014), Alan Ayckbourn's comedy Absurd Person Singular (Garrick Theatre 2007) and Stephen Poliakoff's play Sweet Panic (Duke of York's Theatre 2003); and Harry Melling West End acting credits include Robert Askins' comedy Hand to God (Vaudeville Theatre 2016) and Harold Pinter's play The Hothouse (Trafalgar Studios 2013).

"{Glenda Jackson} is nothing short of commanding, compelling, magnificent. Her diction is flawless and her voice deep but oh so varied: shatteringly savage when she warns Kent not to come between ‘a dragon and his wrath’ and charges at him with a chair... It’s a performance so powerfully eloquent and deeply felt that it more than makes up for the limitations of Warner’s distracting excesses, which confine the play to an idiosyncratic concept rather than open up its resonances to, say, the demands of elderly parents or our responsibilities to the homeless... But Jackson’s fearless, ferocious ascent of the actor’s ‘Everest’ will prove indelible." The Mail on Sunday

"Glenda Jackson, returning to the stage after 25 years, said she chose to play Lear because it is 'hard'. While coping admirably with the physical demands, she is defeated by the role's passion and poetry. She has odd moments of poignancy with Cordelia and the Fool but the King's titanic rages are reduced to mere sneers and snarls... The production's perversity stretches far beyond the central performance. Edgar and Edmund both bare their bottoms extraneously, with the latter even pleasuring himself during his second soliloquy. No sexual reference passes without its being graphically underlined." The Sunday Express

"What a mighty comeback this is. At the age of 80, and after a 25-year absence from the stage, two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson is breathtakingly good as the grief-racked tyrant in Deborah Warner's modern dress production of Shakespeare's epic tragedy. Physically tiny, her legs as thin as emery boards, the former Labour MP uncompromisingly mines the depths to which Lear is betrayed by mind and body. It's a devastatingly full portrait of the terrors of old age. Many an actor has bellowed and boomed their way through Lear but Jackson strips away the bluster. There is nothing self-aggrandising about her performance. She can howl with the best of them but her king is also piteously self-aware. Does her gender make a difference? Not really. Although you feel an icy shiver when Jackson spits a curse of infertility at Goneril, in a way you don't quite when the lines are spoken by a man. Jackson's is not the only memorable performance here. Rhys Ifans brings complex layers to the Fool - a very modern anti-hero who is last seen asleep in a shopping trolley. Harry Melling is a full-on Edgar, Celia Imrie is a chillingly ordinary Goneril and Jane Horrocks is a sexually skittish Regan. Perhaps in the end Warner's production isn't quite monumental - but Jackson's Lear is, unquestionably." The London Metro

King Lear in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 25 October 2016, opened on 4 November 2016 and closed on 2 December 2016


Royal Shakespeare Company King Lear with Ian McKellen 2007

Previewed 14 November 2007, opened 28 November 2007, closed 12 January 2008 at the New London Theatre in London

The Royal Shakespeare Company present a strictly limited season of two plays, The Seagull and King Lear in London in repertory.

First performed 400 years ago, the tragedy of King Lear remains one of the greatest plays in world drama, as Shakespeare investigates old age, mortality, family and man's need for religious belief and the capacity to endure.

The RSC's production of King Lear comes to London following a sell-out season in Stratford-upon-Avon (March to June 2007) and a following world tour. The production is directed by Trevor Nunn and features Ian McKellen in the title role of 'King Lear' along with Frances Barber as 'Goneril', William Gaunt as 'Gloucester' and Sylvester McCoy as 'The Fool'. This production was filmed at Pinewood Studios in 2008, broadcast by the BBC and is available on DVD.

"Throughout, McKellen gives a truly king-size performance. Even his snowy white hair is eloquent. Agitated, it stands on end like a dandelion seed. But his slow, anguished, despairing repetition of the word 'never' five times as he struggles to accept that Cordelia, the daughter he holds in his arms, will never take another breath, is the image I shall never forget. Barber's Goneril is a flinty-faced, pursed and puce-lipped Cruella de Vil, but nothing special; Monica Dolan, as her sister, Regan, is much more alarming. She's a big drinker with an alcoholic's unpredictable instability. Her gleeful whooping as Gloucester's eyes are plucked out will give me nightmares. While the actors never fail to give an intelligent reading of their lines, McKellen alone seems genuinely heartfelt." The Mail on Sunday

"It is a production distinguished by energetic intelligence and lucidity: Nunn brings out the symmetries and ironies in the play. And while the storm on the heath commonly rages both outside and within Lear's mind, Nunn has the whole ornate set disintegrate: as Lear crumbles so do his palace, his kingdom and the perceived order of things. Above all Nunn emphasises that this is a journey away from reliance on divine power... McKellen undergoes this rite of passage with immense, quizzical energy. This is a witty Lear, and his spry intelligence makes his journey the more painful as he fights for comprehension at every turn." The Financial Times

"At first Ian McKellen resembles one of those tsars who, even in modern times, believed themselves to be anointed by God and had little but scorn for the poor naked wretches whose desperation Shakespeare's protagonist comes to acknowledge. At any rate, his Lear starts Trevor Nunn's excellent Royal Shakespeare Company production by parading on stage dressed for some magnificent Orthodox ceremony, surrounded by obsequious Russian courtiers and radiating the arrogant complacency that ended the Romanov dynasty... This is a superlative performance from McKellen that has lost nothing with its transfer from Stratford to London... Christopher Oram's set, reminiscent of the balcony of an old theatre, cracks and splinters - symbolising the mind, family, kingdom, planet and universe that Nunn's revival is evoking so memorably." The Times

King Lear in London at the New London Theatre previewed from 14 November 2007, opened on 28 November 2007 and closed on 12 January 2008


Royal Shakespeare Company's King Lear with Corin Redgrave 2005

Previewed 13 January 2005, Opened 18 January 2005, Closed 5 February 2005 at the Noel Coward Theatre in London

The Royal Shakespeare Company present King Lear in London featuring Corin Redgrave in the title role and directed by Bill Alexander.

The cast for King Lear in London features Corin Redgrave in the title role along with Pal Aron, Louise Bangay, Sian Brooke, Peter Bygott, Caolan Byrne, Samuel Clemens, Matt Cross, Ruth Gemmell, Sean Hannaway, David Hargreaves, Louis Hilyer, Michael G Jones, Tam Mutu, Emily Raymond, Matthew Rhys, Jack Whihtam, Leo Wringer and Anatol Yusef. Directed by Bill Alexander, set designs by Tom Piper, costume designs by Kandis Cook, lighting by Tim Mitchell, music by Jonathan Goldstein, sound by David Tinson and fights by Malcolm Ranson. This production comes into London's West End following a season at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in June 2004.

"Many of the themes driving Shakespeare's great tragedy are just as prominent today as when Will wrote King Lear 400 years ago... And when the crazed Lear - trying to help the Earl of Gloucester after his eyes are gouged out by the King's son-in-law - talks of 'madmen leading the blind', plenty of the political decisions of today spring to mind. One has plenty of time for such idle musing during director Bill Alexander's ponderous version of the play -it runs for almost four hours including a much-needed interval. Corin Redgrave, Vanessa's younger brother, seems to grow in stature as an actor as he gets older - at 65 he's probably at his peak - but even he can't hold together a production that lacks any real focus. The costumes are a mish-mash of modern - sort of - styles and the scenery a brick wall in which a jagged hole is torn." The Sun

"There is no mistaking the evident desire to make both the play and the central performance seem fresh and original, but you repeatedly sense perversity rather than profundity, clever ideas rather than heart-felt emotion... The big novelty here is that Lear is presented as a man in vigorous late middle age rather than the octogenarian Shakespeare specified... It's an intriguing reading but one that bears only a tangential relationship to the character Shakespeare actually wrote... This Lear may lack the required grandeur, but his descent into madness is heart-catchingly caught, as are the rapt moments of spiritual illumination... With a running time of four hours this is, for all its occasional merits, an evening that sorely tries the viewer's patience." The Daily Telegraph

King Lear 2005 in London at the Noel Coward Theatre previewed from 13 January 2005, opened on 18 January 2005 and closed on 5 February 2005.


English Touring Theatre Company's King Lear with Timothy West 2003

Previewed 18 March 2003, Opened 26 March 2003, Closed 26 April 2003 at the Old Vic Theatre in London

Shakespeare's Old King Lear resolves to share the British kingdom between his three daughters on the condition that they declare their love for him unconditionally. Cordelia, his youngest daughter, refuses to do so, is banished and the kingdom is divided between his two elder daughters. The two sisters divest Lear of his remaining power and eventually turn him out into a stormy night. Meanwhile, Lear's loyal friend, Gloucester, is abused by Edmund, his illegitimate son, who has turned him against Edgar, his legitimate son. When Cordelia returns from France with an army to conquer England for her father, the tragedy reaches its terrible climax.

The cast features Timothy West in the title role with Jessica Turner as 'Goneril', Catherine Kanter as 'Regan', Garry Cooper as 'Kent', Dominic Rickhards as 'Edmund' and Nick Fletcher as 'Edgar'. Presented by English Touring Theatre Company and directed by Stephen Unwin.

"The English Touring Theatre production of this play is not one of the great Lears. Most of the time, it isn't even one of the good Lears. But it has the merit of being unpretentious, and it reaches its greatest where the play does too: when the mad Lear and the blind Gloucester meet... The worst thing of this Lear is that too little of it - particularly during the first three acts - is audible. Shakespeare style needs to be adjusted to each auditorium, but this team doesn't seem to have learnt much from touring... When the production relaxes after the storm and becomes more generally audible, its unpretentiousness works well... And though Timothy West's general naturalness of diction has its incidental virtues, he plays the role all on the same small scale. Too unassuming for authority; too reasonable for madness." The Financial Times

"English Touring Theatre can't have needed a pantechnicon when it was trucking its revival of Lear about Britain, picking up topnotch reviews. The decor - sloping boards, a throne, a joint-stool for the hovel-on-the-heath scene, little else - could have fitted into a people carrier. And the reward is pace and fluency and maybe something more... Unwin's production aims to combine physical minimalism with emotional and even metaphysical size and scope. That's a tall order in as reductionist an age as our own, but, thanks to the lead actor, it is successfully achieved. That actor is Timothy West... This is a rich yet intricate performance, epicentre of a revival that includes some irritating cuts and fiddly changes but never loses its grip." The Times

"There's much that is very good about English Touring Theatre's lean, speedy production of King Lear which has come in to the Old Vic - not least its admirable clarity. Shakespeare's tragedy emerges as the tale of an old man who makes one very stupid, hasty decision in trying to divide his kingdom in proportion to how much each of his daughters claims to love him, and so plunges himself into a king-size catastrophe. Timothy West's Lear appears almost to know he's made a terrible mistake from the start, but he can't do anything about it. Instead, he has to go through an appalling learning curve. By the end he discovers, very painfully and very graphically, that love is measured by quality rather than quantity and lies in actions, not words. The process blows his mind, then breaks his heart. West is certainly up to the task - impressive if not great. He makes perfect sense, even through madness, of the journey to self-knowledge through suffering. When, humbled and quiet, he acknowledges 'I am old and foolish', his hard-won wisdom announces itself with pitiful eloquence... Stephen Unwin's competent rather than inspired production is beautifully spoken, but it lacks mood; it's too plain. You can see all too well how this production was neatly packed into the back of a van: one smallish throne for the court scenes, a broken stool for the hovel, leaving ample room for the gorgeous costumes, lots of velvet and baggy breeches... Still, the play is the thing here, and it's a directorial approach to be welcomed." The Mail on Sunday

King Lear in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 18 March 2003, opened on 26 March 2003 and closed on 26 April 2003