Saturday 28 June 1997
Heavens! They're at it again. The same editors who worked themselves into a lather about critics learning (a little late, perhaps?) about directing are demanding more news coverage about theatre. This time, it's about the shocking goings-on at the Young Vic, where that brazen hussy Helena Kaut-Howson has had the temerity to cast an actress in the title role of King Lear.
Fogeys old and young can be found pontificating across pages of such august journals as The Guardian, spluttering about "authenticity". The charge of "political correctness" is back, lazily adopted by those seeking a return to the bad old days when, in the words of John Wayne, "Men were men, women were women and pansy was just the name of a flower..." (Mind you, his real name was Marion Michael Morrison. Go figure.)
Few of them seemed to have noticed that this is merely a London transfer for a production that opened weeks ago in Leicester. Silly me, I forgot. These editors don't care a fig about "the provinces".
Whether you accept the casting of Kathryn Hunter as King Lear boils down to what you think acting is about. Few men who play it actually have direct experience of dividing a kingdom among their offspring, let alone wandering naked and blind in their local park during a spot of particularly bad weather. No. They use their imagination, their voice and their body to create the character. A good actor persuades audiences to share the illusion that they are that person. Not every actress is capable of successfully portraying a male tyrant - I'm not in a hurry to see, say, Nyree Dawn Porter attempt the role - but although I have yet to see her, I'm sure an actress of Kathryn Hunter's gifts is more than capable of pulling it off. If you want naturalism, stick with TV. Theatre is about so much more than that, for which we must thank, in part, Samuel Beckett.
When Waiting For Godot was first staged, people reeled in shock. His play challenged every notion of naturalism and opened the door to a complete rethink of 20th-century theatrical conventions. Peter Hall directed the 1955 British premiere, and 42 years later he's back. This revival is unlikely to cause a similar sensation, as so much of what Beckett did is now central to contemporary theatre. But this indisputably great tragi-comedy really is a classic.
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