IT SEEMS British actors of a certain vintage have to play King Lear or risk getting kicked out of Equity, and now it is the turn of Tim Pigott-Smith.
He’s best known for playing suave, sinister villains so there were some concerns whether he had the range to take on Shakespeare’s most demanding role; but he is never less than enthralling as the mad king.
"The second half is a standard Shakespearean bloodbath that makes Grand Theft Auto look like a picnic."
The story revolves around the tired monarch’s deranged decision to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, but when one displeases him and is banished, all hell breaks loose.
Watching the king’s disintegration as he bounces between his scheming daughters Regan and Goneril, it is not clear if Lear is truly mad or just suffering from dementia, suggested by his occasional bouts of lucidity.
Meanwhile, in a needless sub-plot, the Earl of Gloucester’s son Edgar is being outmanoeuvred by his bastard brother Edmund – a superb James Garnon – and runs for his life.
The heath scene is one of the classics in world literature and Pigott-Smith is magnificent leading his fool – the capering Richard O’Callaghan - and the now mad Edgar – a slightly overblown Sam Crane – on a merry dance in the eye of a storm. They are aided by the banished loyalist Kent – a wonderfully exasperated and muscular Tim Frances.
The second half is a standard Shakespearean bloodbath that makes Grand Theft Auto look like a picnic. Gloucester has his eyes plucked out by the Duke of Cornwall who then is killed by a slave; the two sisters meet grisly ends and the redeemed Edgar kills his brother in a well choreographed fight scene.
The mad king has to deal with one final tragedy before finding peace at last in the arms of Edgar who has now regained his senses.
This is Ian Brown’s swansong as artistic director and is a production worthy of his reign at the playhouse. His choice of Piggot-Smith as Lear is inspired as his powerful and subtle performance allows him to take his place in the pantheon of great Lears through the ages.
Evening performances until Sat 22 Oct (Tue – Sat at 7.15pm), including a performance on Mon 26 Sept
Matinees: Sat 1, 8, 15 & 22 Oct (1.30pm) Thurs 6, 13 & 20 Oct (1.30pm)
BSL Interpreted Performance: Sat 8 Oct (1.30pm)
Audio Described Performance: Wed 12 Oct (7.15pm) Sat 15 Oct (1.30pm)
Captioned Performance: Thurs 13 Oct (7.15pm)
Free After Show Discussion: Wed 12 Oct (7.15pm)
Tickets: £17- 27 (Concs available)
A limited number of free tickets are available to under 26s Monday – Thursday.