King Lear Jan 29th, ’11

london west end

Derek Jacobi now owns this part.

Sorry, everybody else who wants to try out Shakespeare’s masterpiece, you’ll have to wait at least ten years. The part is Jacobi’s for now.

Most readers of any theatre blog will have seen King Lear at least once – Lear is all about love and rejection, greed and wealth,  power and the loss of it as age claims a once great king. And about how one wrong decision can bring kingdoms to their knees and drive men into madness.The Donmar Warehouse theatre has brought Lear to the stage – a stark, empty stage, with whitewashed wooden boards that continue to the walls, naked and nothing more. It is Shakespeare’s story that, as it unfolds, fills the empty space with emotions and pictures and the timeless beauty of the bard’s words. The costumes are vaguely contemporary, with long woollen coats and Lear all decked in pale cream colored linnen (as if his clothes were in anticipation of the plain long shirt the dead were dressed in).  And as the theatre is very small, the audience almost participates, is part of what is going on, is even more involved in the heartbreak of a king who gave away his power not realising that he would give away his sanity and his life, too.

One of the most impressive scenes – to me, at least – was when Lear surrounded by his two daughters, neither of whom wants him in her home and cuts his entourage down to – why not ten, why not 1?? – nothing starts to apologise for being old, and yet still is full of regal power, but now despised by his daughters, with not one person standing by him other than his fool. This is eternal truth, so present-day even more so when brought to life by Derek Jacobi, that it hurts to listen.

And then it’s Lear’s descent into madness, when storm, lightning and thunder seem to obey his wishes – that were negated not so long ago by his own blood – as he curses his offspring, when his slowly vanishing reason seems like a soft blanket that almost gently, mercifully takes him away to a place less cruel.A place that rejects him back into horrible reality when his daughter Cordelia is killed and Jacobi carries her lifeless body onto the bright white stage, and _ a very last curtain to his whole bloodline – follows her into oblivion. Because in death everybody is finally equal – greed, powerlust, rejection, deceit,  petty differences and even murder pales in the face of death.

It is an amazing play even with lesser actors, but with the brilliant cast that will take the play on tour soon it’s absolutely brilliant. Add to that the intimacy of the Donmar theatre and it seemed I was part of the play, enthralled by it to the point of being mesmerised.

And it was only because the audience could barely stand in the small space between the unmarked rows that standing ovations didn’t happen. 😉


Add to that the friendliness of the Donmar crew who graciously let me sneak in upstairs because – ah the joy – fucking easyJet was two hours late and I therefore missed the first 20 minutes or so of the matinee. sigh. It was an absolutely BRILLIANT experience and I am more than grateful to have seen Derek Jacobi live on stage. He is absolutely amazing and I would love to see him in The Tempest sooner rather than later!


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