May 28th, 2008


On our way to and from Stratford we listened to an OU production of King Lear. It wasn't very good. You can't do Lear with the 2nd XI. You've got to have strong actors in every role.

Edgar for instance. Edgar is an underwritten part. He's Hamlet without the wit or the soliloquies- a young man whose family has betrayed him and who puts on madness as a disguise. But is it wholly a disguise? In my vision of the play Edgar is a man in extremis- almost as much as Lear is-  only more resilient because of his youth- who when he moves into the character of poor Tom lets go- and once he starts raving, finds it hard to turn it off.  Our actor had Edgar fully in control of himself, flipping in and out of "madness" with ease- which made his interaction with Lear and Gloucester seem callous and his ranting phoney. At the heart of the play is the extraordinary scene in which Lear, Edgar and the Fool bounce their craziness off one another- like the Marx brothers playing for tragic effect. You need to believe in them all. A weak link- a weak Edgar- and it becomes a dog's breakfast.  

Lear himself is the toughest role Shakespeare ever wrote. He goes from Joseph Stalin to Francis of Asissi, with Bill Hicks in the middle. It works on the page- because it's possible to imagine an actor protean enough to encompass all these personae and make the transitions seem natural, but does he exist in real life? I'm not sure. Hamlet is a role in which every actor makes some sort of success, Lear one in which every actor more or less falls short.  Maybe there's a definitive Lear out there somewhere. If so I haven't found him. 

Peter Sellers was offered the role once- and funked it. A pity, because it would have been ever so interesting....