The Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s run of five plays at the Roundhouse is a showcase of ensemble playing, absolutely not to be missed. While Derek Jacobi earns raves as the man with three daughters across town at the Donmar Warehouse, the RSC’s production by David Farr is wilfully low-key – few raised voices, no extravagant gestures. The poignant setting, in the middle of the First World War, reminds us that war is never far away in our lives.
Greg Hicks is dangerously young as Lear, his frustrations all the more furious and empathetic. He is never so much a king as a team player who, deprived by Goneril and Regan of his entourage, becomes a lonely ex-ruler, living out his time on the speaking circuit.
He is Tony Blair, answering for his Iraq conduct before Parliament, Bill Clinton on the meaning of ‘is’, Silvio Berlusconi as the ‘victim’ of vindictive women.
Tunji Kasim’s clean-cut Edmund is the eternal, self-serving courtier – Alistair Campbell to Blair, rewriting history as he goes in his own favour. Geoffrey Freshwater’s Earl of Gloucester, poignant to a fault, is a loyal administrator in a nest of vultures, a man concerned with human decencies and the smooth running of government, even when eyeless and cast out. Kelly Hunter, Kelly Stephens and Sophie Russell are the daughters. This is team play at its best – and most elusive.
Forgo star appeal. This, in the round, is the Lear of the moment.
photo: RSC/Manuel Harlan