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King Lear

By William Shakespeare


Royal Exchange Theatre, 6 April 2016

Don Warrington as King Lear. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Don Warrington as King Lear. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

At the end of this absorbing, top-notch production of the great classic tragedy, you hardly realise that well-nigh four hours have passed.

You do realise, however, that this is a drama not so much about old age or madness or majesty as about the relations between the generations, Gloucester and his sons as much as Lear and his daughters, and the preservation of what one might call the human project (society, culture, whatever), what Edmund Burke writing in a later age would call the partnership between ‘those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born’.

Burke goes on to describe what happens when this partnership (‘the great primaeval contract of eternal society’) is broken:

Nature is disobeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.

And that’s a fair summary of what happens in King Lear – though Burke was actually reflecting on the consequences of the French Revolution.

This excellent production has light and shade, pace and pathos, even blood and gore – as when Gloucester is blinded: a reminder that Uncle Will could do the nasty stuff as well as young John Webster. Don Warrington pulls off the title role with majesty and Fraser Ayres as the bastard Edmund also stood out among a very fine cast.

King Lear is showing at the Royal Exchange until 7 May, further details can be found here.