(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Observer, 9/2.)
This year, we may be experiencing “a madness of Lears” – what other collective noun is there? – but this one is exceptional. Gregory Doran’s production is strong, bold and clear and, in Niki Turner’s design, moves from a world of quasi-oriental despotism into bare-stage Samuel Beckett. In Antony Sher it also boasts a Lear fit to rank with the finest.
The key to Sher’s Lear lies in his emotional volatility. He is first seen enthroned like a secular god in an elevated glass cage. Once he comes to Earth, he is prey to violent mood swings. When Lear curses Goneril with infertility, Sher displays a horrifying anatomical precision. Yet he shows true tenderness in his colloquies with Graham Turner’s whimsical Fool and, having logically attacked human superfluity in “O, reason not the need”, surrenders to spluttering incoherence. Not even Sher can reconcile me to the hovel scene, but he is superb in his encounter with David Troughton’s excellent Gloucester on Dover Heath. He not only illuminates every line, but the spectacle of two instinctively authoritarian old men reduced to childlike dependence is unbearably moving.