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Did Grandage's Lear win me over?

126651939610 Saw King Lear for the first time three years ago with Sir Ian McKellen in the lead and I confess that I wasn't won over by it as a play despite being a very good production.

But as it's all about interpretation and performance, thought I'd give it another go, this time in the hands of director Michael Grandage and Derek Jacobi at the Donmar Warehouse.

Lear is a difficult character to like. Within minutes of the opening scene he demonstrates what a vain and egocentric man he is, dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters but then asking each to say how much they love him in order to get their share.

His youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to pander to him and he disinherits her starting a chain of events that inevitably lead to tragedy.

The first time I saw Lear, I couldn't help thinking the King got everything he deserved. I didn't see any regret just self pity which made for a slightly unsatifactory ending.

However, in Jacobi's portrayal, that all changed. His descent from raging tyrant to madness and then frail and lonely old man made him a far more pitiable character. And, in the final scene, his distress at Cordelia's death was deeply moving.

But it wasn't just Jacobi that made this a Lear that I liked. Other standout performances came from Gwilym Lee as Edgar, the rightful heir to an Earldom falsely accused of plotting to kill his father and subsequently forced to go into hiding as homeless mad-man to avoid capture. Lee gets extra marks for carrying off body paint and a loin cloth with aplomb. Certainly a talent to watch.

Gina McKee's Goneril (now there's a name from the classics that isn't going to be heard shouted in prep-school playgrounds) showed depth to a character that, alongside Regan, feels slightly superfluous for much of the play.

Then there was the wonderful Ron Cook as The Fool, although I admit that having seen Sylvester McCoy in the same role strung up on stage, director Michael Grandage's choice of having his death merely announced felt like an anticlimax.

Of course the scene that everyone remembers in Lear is the Gloucester eyeball gouging. With the stage devoid of any dressing, just stark, roughly painted white wooden planks it begged the question which idea came first: Throwing a bloody eyeball against the white wall or the white wall.

The only downside of this particular piece of theatrics was that the presence of said eyeball stuck to the wall for the rest of the second half was a little distracting; I kept waiting for it to start sliding down. Nice clean up job for someone in the production team.

Anyone who's read my reviews before will know that I have a slightly worrying like for stage blood and gore so this was satisfactory indeed. It's a shame, though, that many of the other deaths happened off stage.

Nonetheless Grandage, who was hanging around front of house last night, must be pleased that the second preview of his King Lear had a good chunk of the audience up on their feet to applaud.

Lear is not going to replace Hamlet as my favourite Shakespeare play but this production has certainly opened up a door to it that didn't exist before.

King Lear is on until February 5.


Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, the Duke of Gloucester is played by one Paul Jesson whose last outing on stage was opposite Mr W in Cock at the Royal Court. And as that was so easy then another is Alex Newman who played Edmund was in Fastest Clock in the Universe at Hampstead Theatre which was written by Philip Ridley who also wrote Mercury Fur and Leaves of Glass, both of which starred Mr W.