King Lear, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
King Lear is a daunting prospect for any actor – so too for an audience. Uncompromising, dark and sprawling.
But as director Ian Brown concedes in the programme notes for this new production it is permissible to struggle a little bit, even if you have no choice but to experience it at some point in your theatregoing life. "Whatever you think of it, whether you like it or whether you don't, it's there, and it has to be negotiated," he says.
Tim Pigott-Smith's aged king not only fulfils a lifelong personal ambition to play the role but provides a fine guide to steer the fainthearted through this, perhaps, the most hallowed of Shakespeare's tragedies.
He is avuncular, needy, vengeful, raging and ultimately lost to confusion, hitting each mark near perfectly during the long descent into madness and doom.
But his is not the only remarkable performance. James Garnon is outstanding as the cunning bastard Edmund, evoking a Blairish everyman charisma – funny and chilling by turns. Sam Crane is admirably over-the-top as his legitimate brother Edgar while Tim Frances plays the loyal thug Kent with brooding menace and energy.
The narrow, sloping set of the opening spins to create a blacked-out tempest scene during which Pigott-Smith, perched aloft, excels.
You can almost see the driving rain stinging his eyes, wetting his beard and soaking his frail body amid ear-splitting thunder and lightning.
However, the real tour de force comes in the opening of the second half with the sadistic blinding of Gloucester.
It is a disturbing scene demonstrating that no matter what the wealth and title of the perpetrator, the horror of violence viewed up close and personal is truly sickening.
Lear's deceitful daughter Regan, played by Hedydd Dylan exudes a sexual pleasure in the humiliation and mutilation of the old man with her husband Cornwall. Neve McIntosh is equally malevolent as her sister Goneril.
The looming sense of corruption and impending decay is meant to chime with the spirit of our times although it is hard to think of a period when it might not have been relevant.
This is a production skilfully realised in primary colours by Ian Brown and a consummate cast.
To 22 October (0113 213 7700)
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Marijuana use by teenagers does not result in a lower IQ or worse exam results, study finds
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits back at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth fired in double elimination
MOBO Awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with double elimination
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters