2022 – King Lear Review – The frail, tender, and seemingly unbearable old Regent Catherine Hunter | Shakespeare’s Globe

IIf the current state of Britain reflects Shakespearean play, he might hope for much for Richard II: the weak and despised leader brutally deposed. But with Boris Johnson opposing the plot, it is King Lear – a nation disintegrating amid a sense that everything is about to end – who seems more apt.

Production started by Helena Kaut-Howson but realized by the actors while the director was recovering from an injury, a new Globe production underscores that timing. The costumes are modern, and the performers orally emphasize the frequent negatives – “nothing”, “the worst”, “madness” – that resonate strongly in the lyric.

Kathryn Hunter reprises her first starring role in the 1997 film Kaut-Howson. Although it is now common for women to play classic male roles—and the “authentic” cast of Lear requires an eight-year-old who has lost his mind and children—these productions often feminize characters (Prospira, Malfolia) or provide one illustrative context: performances in a women’s prison For example, or Glenda Jackson’s 2016 film Old Vic Lear, intersectionality as practice in the practice room.

Hunter’s First Lear used a nursing home resident’s performance setting, but this time she’s relying on her extraordinary transformational abilities to run as written. She’s downright older king, channeling the louder voice and epic looks that declining hormones in a male age can cause. The long, shaggy white hair over Hunter’s slender frame gives him the contrasting look of an elderly child, albeit with enough threat in his voice (each syllable clearly struck) to terrorize the court thus far. The intense yoga agility that is a hallmark of many Hunter performances — including some ferrata gymnastics performances in Ionesco’s The Chairs’ recent Almeida revival — is deliberately suppressed here to imply weakness convincingly.

A Winter’s Tale… a hunter starring Michel Terry Fool. Photo: Johann Pearson

Globe art director Michelle Terry is simultaneously Cordelia and Bean, and the cast is made possible by not sharing the scenes and made plausible by Lear’s reference to that daughter as “poor idiot.” Piero’s court clown with a white face in a long coat and scarf suggestive of an audition for Doctor Who, Terry becomes one of the few actors in the role to bring big laughs to Puzzles and Doggerel. Kwaku Mills convincingly gives Edgar an arc that looks like Hamlet from weak to subtle.

Lear is the tale of winter, and its premiere on the sunniest day of the year made some of the early scenes seem pretty easy in every respect. But the mood prevailed with the sky above our divided kingdom, and the last sight of Lear Cordelia was almost unbearably exciting. Hunter takes her place, with Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, Paul Schofield (in the film) and Glenda Jackson among the Lears who have etched themselves in my memory.

At Shakespeare’s Globe, London until July 24.

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