King Lear, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Near the end of his Premiership, Tony Blair was confronted by his rising rival, David Cameron, across the dispatch box.
Blair often did well on such occasions, but not that day.
“You were the future, once,” mocked the young pretender. No comeback arrived from Blair.
Very soon he would swap limos of State for the long limp into oblivion.
As the curtain rises on King Lear, the monarch is in the twilight of his reign – no longer the future – though he still stands proud in his pomp.
Not for long. A disastrous decision to divide his kingdom between his two scheming daughters, Goneril and Regan, leads to his exile, degeneration and madness.
His fate seems sealed, though his one true daughter, Cordelia, along with the Earl Of Kent and Gloucester hold true to his cause.
This is a memorable version of Shakespeare’s tragedy of age and impotent rage.
The stage design is ragged and raw, highlighting the barren wilderness Lear stumbles through, and that also exists in his head.
Use of costume is also enlightening. Shakespeare is often freshened by being set in a specific time, but director, David Farr, doesn’t opt for any one era. Instead he mixes and matches. One moment the actors are garbed in Medieval cloaks and brandish broadswords. The next, they are coated in khaki, while pointing rifles.
The concept isn’t disjointed and works well, highlighting the generation gap between the elderly king of swords, and the slick new forces with guns who make him an irrelevance.
Irrelevance is one of the major themes. The best moments in the play, Lear rambling to his fool, the blinded Gloucester led by his son, Edgar, round a fictitious landscape, could easily be Beckett.
In the role of Lear, Greg Hicks performs excellent physical acting when making the transition from magnificent monarch to shrivelled old man.
Other stand-out performances include Kelly Hunter and Katy Stephen as Goneril and Regan.
Darrell D’Silva brings humour and valour to his role, while Charles Aitken almost steals the show with an Edgar of so many parts, he could have been constructed from Lego bricks.
Tanji Kasim is a tad young and sweet to play the Machiavellian womaniser, Edmund, though I suppose even Tiger Woods has a baby face.
All in all, a stunning version of a play that was the future once – and is so, again.
Running time: Three hours and 35 minutes.
Until Aug 26