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