Being a little squeamish, I’ve always had a problem with Lear. It’s that scene. Gloucester’s eyes. “Out vile jelly.” But having lit a production of the show and therefore been forced to sit through it for two and a half weeks plus rehearsals, I’ve come to love the play itself, it’s one of my favourites.
When I heard Jacobi was playing Lear I wanted to see it, even before I discovered Gina McKee was Goneril. I’ve been a fan of Gina McKee since I saw her in the wonderful Our Friends in the North (playing opposite a future Doctor and a future James Bond). McKee was the most thrilling Goneril I’ve seen, and absolutely terrifying. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth.
Lear is one of those parts where the whole play depends on a single actor, he’s on stage for most of the time and it must be physically as well as emotionally exhausting. I believe Jacobi chose to wait until now to tackle the role at the age of 72, and he is every bit as good as I anticipated, it is a wonderful performance. My only minor quibbles were over the opening scene when he was quick to become enraged. Given how his anger grows from this point, the emotional dynamics put a strain on the following scenes. Perhaps this is why the famous speech in the storm scene is whispered, with the sound effects cut out, or perhaps this was supposed to emphasise his inner turmoil. Or perhaps it was just to do things differently in one of the most celebrated sequences in the play. Regardless, Jacobi’s stamina is incredible, a sustained virtuoso performance that never fails to command absolute attention.
The set in the Donmar was particularly impressive too, uniform white planking extending into the auditorium. During the well-realised storm scene every crack was flooded with light to impressive effect.
It’s a production with no weak links. Gwilym Lee perhaps deserves a mention for a particularly fine performance as Edgar, but I’d have been happy to recommend it on the strength of either Jacobi or McKee’s performances alone.
Due to the rather belated completion of this post the run at the Donmar is now over, but if you get a chance to, catch it on tour until 16th April.