King Lear @ Shakespeare’s Globe, London

cast list
David Calder
Sally Bretton
Kellie Bright
Trystan Gravelle
Danny Lee Wynter
Jodie McNee

directed by
Dominic Dromgoole
Dirty, Sexy, Money, the new American import now showing on Channel Four, lays bear the lives of the spoilt children of a moneyed patriarch and their hedonistic, vapid lives which are a constant source of shame to their aged father. Nothing it seems, to turn King Lear’s adage on its head, can come of something, especially of the poisoned chalice of unearned power and wealth.

This year’s Globe summer season opens with Dominic Dromgoole’s production of King Lear, with David Calder in the lead role. And it’s a solid enough way to kick things off, with a couple of particularly memorable flourishes.

His sanity decaying, Lear is bumped between his daughters, from ungrateful child to ungrateful child. They all grow tired of him, until he is left crazed and wandering on a heath where some superbly archaic machinery cranked into action to recreate the sounds of the perilous storm.

Calder’s Lear is the main pull in this production, and he initially appears more of an avuncular old soul rather than a tyrannical despot. His Lear is a tender study of the human condition and his decrepitude and growing frailty serves to show the vulnerability inherent in old age. But this sympathetic take has its drawbacks, making it hard to see how he could ever have inspired so much malice in his daughters.

While Calder has an inimitable on stage presence, the other cast members are a little lacklustre in comparison. Sally Bretton’s Goneril especially made me feel as if there must be a sixth form production somewhere sorely missing its leading lady.

The subplot of Gloucester’s undoing by the venal Edmund, shines a further light on Lear’s breakdown, forcing the audience to regard it more as the result of the psychic trauma of a broken heart, rather than a descent into dementia. Trystan Gravelle’s compelling Edgar and Daniel Hawkford’s devilish Edmund are brilliant and Gloucester’s eye gouging at the hands of Kelly Bright’s Regan is truly stomach churning it is impossible not to recoil as the gory eye balls and their tendrils go bouncing back across the stage.

Note must also be made of Danny Lee Wynter’s Fool, a blithe puck, comical and spritely, the perfect antidote to the heart breaking deception and Lear’s myopia.

Love it seems, whether it be familial or romantic, can tear you apart, render you blind as well as mad, and this production, with its gentle Lear, also pushes the audience to ask what good are our senses if they do not truly enable us to see into the human heart and mind?

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