Review: King Lear

Derek Jacobi finds the inner child in Shakespeare's tragic monarch.

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<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

For a key to Derek Jacobi's approach to the snow-topped Everest of Shakespeare roles, we should consult not the text of King Lear, but Jaques's "Seven Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It. Jacobi vocally reflects the monarch's decline, "his big manly voice,/Turning again toward childish treble, pipes/And whistles in his sound." Jacobi's Lear also whines, mewls and, when most bereft, talks in a thin, babyish wail that makes his persecution at the hands of Goneril and Regan seem both elder and child abuse.

Michael Grandage's stark, muscular production, like his Hamlet from last season, doesn't come with any noticeable conceptual baggage. It's stylish and compact, with the text front and center, spoken with clarity, precision and gusto. Designer Christopher Oram places three curved, white-mottled walls around the ensemble, with two slits for entrances and exits. (The structure's concavity creates lively acoustics.) Grandage's most obvious (and effective) innovation is to isolate the king's voice in the middle of his famous storm scene; Lear's passionate address to the elements is whispered on a darkened stage, smoke wafting up through the floorboards. At such intense moments, Grandage and Jacobi put us squarely inside Lear's grief-addled, self-forgetting head.

Holding their own against the dazzling Jacobi are Ron Cook as a wily, sour Fool; Michael Hadley's doughty Kent; and pretty but deadly Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell as Goneril and Regan, whose similar looks make Pippa Bennett-Warner's Cordelia seem more of an outsider, a daughter from another marriage. On balance, the Donmar Warehouse production makes a strong case for revisiting BAM to see yet another Lear make the tragic descent into mere oblivion.

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BAM Harvey Theater. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Michael Grandage. With Derek Jacobi. 3hrs. One intermission.

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