King Lear, Minerva, Chichester

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The Independent Culture

David Warner was once a legendary RSC Hamlet; then he quit the stage for what seemed like a lifetime. Now, having aged very gracefully, he is back with a snowy beard, shouldering that other great Shakespearean role, Lear, in a minimalist, white-tiled chamber production for Chichester Festival. Warner does not make heavy weather of this task and, I suppose, some spectators might want more majesty and full-blown madness. Yet director Steven Pimlott makes this tragedy a persuasive ensemble piece and Warner is wonderfully natural as a tall, elegant old aristocrat. He has a touch of Prospero's showmanship at first, stage-managing dramatic lighting cues for the division of his kingdom.

David Warner was once a legendary RSC Hamlet; then he quit the stage for what seemed like a lifetime. Now, having aged very gracefully, he is back with a snowy beard, shouldering that other great Shakespearean role, Lear, in a minimalist, white-tiled chamber production for Chichester Festival. Warner does not make heavy weather of this task and, I suppose, some spectators might want more majesty and full-blown madness. Yet director Steven Pimlott makes this tragedy a persuasive ensemble piece and Warner is wonderfully natural as a tall, elegant old aristocrat. He has a touch of Prospero's showmanship at first, stage-managing dramatic lighting cues for the division of his kingdom.

Later, off-duty with his Fool, he lolls in his throne in endearingly scruffy socks. He is also heartrendingly tender, capable of cruel rages, yet breaking off his cursing of Kay Curram's Cordelia to hold her in his arms, shocked and tearful, almost saving them both from the ensuing tragedy. His death scene is beautifully understated as he unbuttons his "lendings" and wraps his white gown round her corpse like a baby's blanket.

John Ramm is also the best Fool I've ever seen: a shorn-headed bloke ambling around with an accordion, breaking into song as unaffectedly as Billy Bragg. His bitter mocking of the king's folly springs from real anger and despair, though he also loves the old man like a surrogate son. That said, the cast is uneven. Brendan O'Hea's vindictive Cornwall affects a ridiculous unblinking stare. And as for the concept of everybody wearing their clothes inside out - presumably this alludes to the line about rotters turning "the wrong side out", but it looks as if the wardrobe department, and not just Lear, has gone bonkers.

To 10 September. 01243 781312

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