The Glenda-Bender: Jackson Is A Magnificent King Lear

King Lear, Old Vic ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 15 months ago
The Glenda-Bender: Jackson Is A Magnificent King Lear King Lear, Old Vic 4

Having swerved from the stage into a political career, how easily could Glenda Jackson take up acting again? The astonishing thing about King Lear is that the answer is seamlessly: with power, and clarity, and complete command of the stage. Given how much acting styles have changed since 1980, this is astonishing and she royally deserves to be seen.

In her first appearance she's supremely elegant, someone's given her hair a modish cut and colour and walked her round Jaeger to select classy separates (although it's debatable whether a red bias cut cardigan adequately stands in for the armour and mantle of King Lear).

Fashion plays a ludicrous part in Deborah Warner's over-stylised production with Celia Imrie in a purple silk-lined swagger coat, an atrociously miscast Jane Horrocks in Littlewoods catalogue biker-chick leathers and jacked up on stratospheric f*ck-me wedges to make her pass for Imrie's sibling. Once Morfydd Clark's dowdy Cordelia stoically accepts being deprived of her legacy, they look — and act — even more like Cinderella's sisters.

Bit of an Ab Fab reunion for Jane Horrocks and Celia Imrie

Jackson's bravura aside, you turn to the men for verisimilitude and a better reading of the poetry and drama in Lear — William Chubb beautifully understated as ever as Albany, Danny Webb a cruel and calculating Cornwall and Karl Johnson excellent as Gloucester, not least in his edge-of-the-cliff scene with Harry Melling's emphatic and slightly wicked Edmund. Melling is a scion of the Troughton acting dynasty, his uncle David really should get a crack at Lear soon.  

Harry Melling takes Karl Johnson to the cliff edge

The atmospherics and projected torrents of the storm are glorious, but elsewhere you could question whether this modernised and minimal production adequately tells the story to those who don't already know it. There are more imponderables — why Sargon Yelda's Kent must have such an impenetrable accent, why Simon Manyonda's Edmund skips during the Bastard scene or moons the audience, and whether Joanne Howarth as the senior female in the ensemble would be Glenda's understudy should there be a 'Glenn Close' situation.

But with Glenda's undoubted vigour, it seems unlikely. She is quite, quite remarkable.

Walk through a storm with your head held high - and Rhys Ifans as your Fool

King Lear continues at the Old Vic until 3 December: some availability still through the Old Vic website.  We saw this production on complimentary tickets.  Production photos by Manuel Harlan.

Last Updated 15 November 2016