Review: King Lear, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

King Lear, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, review

King Lear at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, will go down in theatrical legend for David Hayman’s performance.

The coming together of a great Shakespeare  character and an equally great actor is a rare and memorable event. From   Laurence Olivier’s Henry V to Mark Rylance’s Hamlet, such performances are   the theatre’s equivalent of a lunar eclipse.

One can now add to that illustrious list David Hayman’s King Lear. After a   more than 30–year absence, the revered Scottish actor returns to the   Citizens Theatre Company he calls his “creative home” with a truly defining   depiction of the hapless monarch.

From the moment he first strides on to the stage, a furlined hat upon his head   like an ageing Stalinist dictator, Hayman inhabits the role as if it were a   familiar bespoke suit. He embarks on the division of his kingdom between his   three daughters with an imperious alacrity. His rage against the failure in   flattery of Cordelia (the youngest, and most honest, of his offspring) has   the destructive power of a malevolent Samson.

Lear is the most transformed of Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists, and Hayman   seems almost to be of a different physical shape when we meet him on the   heath, a beggarly old man of desperate contrition and mental agony. Cordelia   says, famously, “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth”; yet that is   precisely what Hayman’s fallen Lear does. Every gesture of   self–denunciation, every word spoken in remorse seems to strain at the very   edges of his humanity. It is an achievement of shuddering anguish and   contagious pathos.

Although director Dominic Hill’s production boasts a transcendent central   performance, it is a superb presentation across the board. The cast, from   Paul Higgins’s bleakly sarcastic Kent to Shauna MacDonald’s sexually devious   Regan, is excellent to an individual. The set (designed by Tom Piper) is an   abstractedly modern world of black walls, metal–framed Perspex and scattered   old pianos; Lear’s kingdom becomes a place of loitering vagabonds,   premonitory reflections and (courtesy of musical director Paddy Cunneen)   sinister sounds.

Hill is as sure of the play’s cruelties as he is of its sympathies. The famous   scene in which old Gloucester’s eyes are put out is portrayed here in all   its appalling violence; Cornwall taking one eye with a corkscrew, Regan the   other with a stiletto heel.

This is a King Lear, then, which could stand beside the best in this year of   the World Shakespeare Festival, and one which will, a generation from now,   be spoken of as “Hayman’s Lear”.

Until May 12

This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on April 27, 2012:

© Mark Brown


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