The acclaimed production of King Lear by the Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow ends this week. Elderjuice's DOUGLAS MITCHELL gives us his take on the interpretation.
Going to the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow is akin to travelling back to one’s childhood.
The setting is red plush and gold leaf, while the elephants guarding the entrance to the theatre itself are redolent of a time when pleasures were simpler and more enduring.
I’ve seen Lear many times. One reason for Shakespeare’s enduring appeal is the room for manoeuvre and interpretation that his plays allow for.
The worst and the best of Shakespeare
The most cringeworthy I ever saw was when Vanessa Redgrave, playing Prospero in The Globe’s Tempest, says the line “No tongue”.
It’s supposed to mean “keep quiet” – but in this production it was interpreted as “No French kissing,” which not only made no sense but also brought an entirely inappropriate laugh from the audience.
The best was Nigel Hawthorn’s interpretation of Lear, which he played as a man with Dementia and Alzheimer’s – and the critics wrongly excoriated him for not being mad enough. The actual production, too, was probably the best of any play I have ever seen.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to see David Hayman’s Lear.
My immediate reaction when he came on stage was that he was looking quite skinny; I daresay the requirements of the part itself have taken their toll on Hayman’s physical presence.
Performed in modern dress, it’s hard to believe in the language. Someone sitting behind me complained he couldn’t understand a word the actors were saying.
But the jealousy and conflict between Edmond and Edgar, between Goneril and Regan, and between Lear and his ego are well brought out.
There were some very nice touches. The young players of what I would describe as the chorus, who helped with stage clearing and setting, were a secondary audience, looming rather like a brooding nemesis. This gave a dark and sombre feeling to the whole.
The balloon, after the first scene, being let go into the flies, the banging of trapdoors to define a moment, and the use of a lethal looking stiletto heel to take out one of Gloucester’s eyes all had me applauding inwardly.
Strong backing cast
But King Lear relies more than anything on the central character, and on how well Kent in particular goes about his business.
In this production, Paul Higgins as Kent is superb, and I very much hope he will be rewarded with his own lead soon.
Shauna Macdonald as Regan is wonderfully sexy and demented. George Costigan plays Gloucester as an ineffectual fool, which I personally disagree with, but in the context of this production it makes sense.
Cal Macaninch as Cornwall is as far removed from the present Duke as it is possible to be, and has a nice line in cruelty.
Owen Whitelaw as the Fool is excellent as well, although it seemed to me he was playing it rather too cruelly and bitterly, which didn’t quite work with what should be his love of Lear.
Lear – believable and sincere
And so we come to David Hayman himself. Was he a dementia sufferer? Possibly. Was he insane? Potentially.
More importantly, did he engage the audience? In the first half, my answer would be “No” – and I heard at least two other people saying the same thing.
In the second half, it was as though he was playing a part he recognised as himself, completely believable and sincere.
As he clutched the pregnant, dead Cordelia to his chest, I’m not ashamed to say there was a prickle in my eyes.