The best Lear I've seen
Sunday 09 May 1993
ROBERT LINDSAY, actor: The only Lear I've been involved in was the TV production with Olivier in 1983, which I thought was very flawed. Sir Laurence fell ill during the last two weeks of rehearsals, and we had an understudy in. The day Olivier came back we did a run-through and he was astonishing. It was a blistering performance, but no one else would ever see it. What we had at the end on film was a very ill man with actors reverentially standing round him. He was dying, and although that is the play, an actor just can't do it. The irony was there were others in that cast who could have played the part, such as Leo McKern (Gloucester) and Colin Blakeley (Kent), but we were there to honour the great Olivier.
ELIJAH MOSHINSKY, director: Donald Sinden in a Trevor Nunn production. I was wearing flares at the time, so it must have been around 1977, when the RSC was still at the Aldwych. It was terrific. It had Judi Dench as Goneril, Michael Pennington as Edgar. Sinden did it quietly and introspectively, which was surprising for an actor with a great booming voice.
DEBORAH WARNER, director: Naturally I admire Brian Cox's performance because I directed it (at the National in 1990). Brian achieved a real journey, from the stupid, authoritarian king, through that pain barrier of dawning understanding, the nakedness of the scenes of madness, to the ultimate tenderness and despair. His heart was so bruised that you believed completely in the necessity of its breaking.
SIR PETER HALL, producer and director: Donald Wolfit was wonderful. I saw him in about 1946 when I was a boy. And Michael Redgrave in 1953. I didn't much like the young Olivier who I saw in '45. The problem with Lear is that by the time you're old enough to be it, you're too old to play it. The greatest was undoubtedly Paul Scofield. I produced it, so I saw it many, many times and was very proud of it. I liked Michael Gambon's, and a great deal of John Wood's (1990), especially his madness. The last one I was associated with was Tony Hopkins at the National (1986) - although he started somewhat shakily, parts of his performance were incandescent.
MARK SHIVAS, Head of Drama, BBC Television: Michael Hordern on television (1983) - beautifully spoken, and his frailty was touching. Equally, but differently, I liked Anthony Hopkins. You could see that he had been a very tough man.
DAVID FREEMAN, director of Opera Factory: The best Lear I've seen was in the Kurosawa film, Ran, although it was very much a version, not Shakespeare's play. As a student in Sydney I actually played Lear. I obviously couldn't do it any sort of justice but it changed my life: it made me grow up.
CICELY BERRY, RSC voice director: Michael Gambon's association with Tony Sher as the Fool was wonderful, and I remember very strongly Donald Sinden's Lear in the late Seventies. The space you're in makes such a difference. Performances in the main house have to have a certain rhetoric about them, which makes it big and broad. I will always remember Buzz Goodbody's first production at The Other Place. Tony Church wasn't the greatest Lear, but he was a very interesting one because he was able to be intimate, so we were drawn into the relationship with his daughters.
SIMON RUSSELL BEALE, Edgar in the new production: I have to confess I've never seen a complete performance of Lear - which is actually a help when it comes to doing it. I saw John Wood's understudy in the last scene, and I played Lear myself at school when I was 17. But it's amazing how much folk memory you get about the Lears. I have a vague idea of what Anthony Hopkins did, and Michael Gambon.
IRVING WARDLE, critic: Scofield was great, but for individuality and excitement I will always remember John Wood. He managed to get speed out of old age - senility with tempo.
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