Glenda Jackson at 80 has returned to the stage after a 25-year absence to play King Lear, one of the most exhausting roles in the theatrical canon. Deborah Warner’s modern dress production at the Old Vic lasts three-and-a-half hours including a 20-minute interval. Jackson has the stamina. She makes no attempt to be a man. She acts Lear and transcends gender. The king’s raging rants are delivered with a harsh-voiced power.
Sadly though, she is let down by an irritating rehearsal-room setting and below-par performances of many of the supporting cast. The storm, created with a big billowing black rubbish bag and projections of clouds and rain, completely upstages the dialogue.
Comus, John Milton’s elaborate masque in honour of chastity, temperance, faith and honour, is rarely performed these days and is exactly the sort of courtly entertainment the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse should be staging.
The masque was commissioned by the Earl of Bridgewater and performed at Ludlow Castle in 1634. His 15-year-old daughter and his two sons, aged 11 and nine, played the Lady and her brothers. Lucy Bailey’s production, crude rather than carnal, is not overawed by Milton’s text and is, sadly, more of a send-up than a genuine masque. She adds a prologue and epilogue written by Patrick Barlow, which shows the Bridgewaters and their servants rehearsing. The daughter is given a spirited feminist harangue, which is far more convincing than anything in the 26-year-old Milton’s text.
Stephen Daldry’s legendary 1992 National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls is revived at the Playhouse Theatre. JB Priestley’s old warhorse, which has been given an amazing new lease of life with stunning, surreal theatricality, is arguably the best murder mystery since Sophocles’s Oedipus. The tension comes from the total predictability of the plot. But the play is so much more than just a detective story.
A socialist tract on capitalist greed is hammered home, perhaps a bit too hard. The message, however, following Brexit and Donald Trump’s triumph in America, couldn’t be more opportune.
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