Almeida Theatre at King's Cross, London N1
Opened 12 February, 2002

**** An ace design with quite a nice production attached

Paul Brown once again works wonders with the set; Oliver Ford Davies acquits himself more than honourably in the title role.

The entire stage and auditorium are lined with wooden panels on walls and ceiling (putting lighting designer Mark Henderson on his mettle, since he cannot light the stage from above), to suggest a state drawing-room from which this modern king makes a TV broadcast to announce his abdication and the division of the kingdoms; when Cordelia departs from her script, the picture on the video monitors fades to snow. As Lear descends into madness, the panels begin to shiver and collapse, so that by the interval the rear wall has all but vanished and a downpour is falling on the floorboards of the stage.

It could be the kind of design decision that overshadows the playing, but in the event things work fine. Davies is the kind of character actor who can do impressive brief outbursts of rage but is usually more measured, and his Lear is impressive for this very reason; he does more than just rumble and roar, finding dynamics even at the height of the king's madness. David Ryall's Gloucester, James Frain's Edmund, Suzanne Burden's Goneril, Anthony O'Donnell's bitter Fool and Tom Hollander's Edgar all offer first-rate support.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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