24 November 2016
Glenda takes the crown
Old Vic, London; Barbican, London
Both Bleak House and King Lear are literary masterpieces, but there is a key difference in the audience’s experience. Across two readings of the Dickens novel, the style and content of the book stay constant; but see Shakespeare’s play twice and it is different each time – and starkly so in a pair of new high-profile versions.
Even the casting argues. For the Royal Shakespeare Company, in a production that has come to London’s Barbican from Stratford, Antony Sher reaches Lear as an inevitable progression from his Richard III, Macbeth, Shylock and Falstaff. At the Old Vic, the Lear is an actress, Glenda Jackson, who is returning to performance after a quarter of a century sabbatical as a Labour MP.
The kingdoms of these Lears also look in very different directions. Sher’s director, Gregory Doran, places him as an ancient Briton, swathed in a coat and hat of animal pelt and borne aloft by attendants. The throne for Jackson, in Deborah Warner’s production, is one of a line of plastic chairs, redolent of an NHS waiting room, which are later overturned to suggest the stocks in which Kent is displayed. The casual modern dress puts Jackson in a red cardigan over slacks.
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