King Lear: Frank Langella

Rating ★★★☆☆

DESIGNER: Robert Innes Hopkins
LIGHTING: Peter Mumford
SOUND: Fergus O'Hare

KING LEAR

  • Venue: Chichester (Minerva)
  • Director: Angus Jackson
  • Company: Chichester Festival Theatre
  • The tradition of transfers from the Chichester Festival Theatre to New York continues with Angus Jackson’s King Lear starring Frank Langella being performed in Brooklyn.

  • Screen actor Langella adds to his considerable stage reputation – it should be remembered that he already has three Tony awards – with a performance that will be remembered for vulnerability and a thwarted final self-awakening that is often too painful to watch.

  • There is a research paper waiting to be written on Frank Langella's repeated treatment of tortured souls in the roles he undertakes.

Martyred sixteenth-century English Catholic Sir Thomas More, Richard Nixon and now Lear is quite a line-up. (Even in his moments of maximum self-deception, Nixon would have been pushed to describe himself as “more sinned against than sinning.”)

It was over the corpse of Cordelia that Langella became totally compelling, the whole production began to gel and one finally had a sense of complete clarity of purpose from director and cast. Angus Jackson’s approach to the play was minimalist with few props and not even a map when the kingdom was being divided though, with a clever touch, designer Robert Innes Hopkins gave the Minerva stage hints of being a diagram.

Just occasionally Langella appeared to need more context or a hint of social fabric, even with the admission that this was either pre-Christian Britain or another pre-monotheistic environment. Minimalist? Well with everything except the elements; I could have done with fewer cataracts and hurricanes and more suggestion of turmoil in the mind from all the characters on the heath.

But there were outstanding performances throughout, notably from Isabella Laughland who underlined her versatility. On screen she has been Leanne in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince while at The National she proved resourceful alongside Rory Kinnear in helping him to almost rescue the wretched The Last of the Haussmans. Guildhall product Lauren O’Neil (Regan) came close to overplaying her hand when illustrating the depth of her character’s evil but was totally credible in her passion for Max Bennett as Edmund, a devotion which sees her betray her husband and sister.

The production avoided any bravado or fussiness, was always coherent and seemed to interrogate the big speeches throughout. It’s to be hoped that Angus Jackson, an associate director at Chichester, will feature prominently when the new season at the refurbished site is announced shortly and possibly with more Shakespeare since the standard of verse speaking here was outstanding and must have made the play accessible to curriculum audiences grappling with the text.

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Background

This was the first Shakespearean production at Chichester since Rupert Goold's Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart . Langella has a surprising Shakespeare pedigree having played Iago to James Earl Jones’ Othello. In the ’80s, he played Prospero in Gene Feist's The Tempest at the Downtown Roundabout, New York. He has been Malcolm in Macbeth and Theseus in a Tyrone Guthrie production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

PRODUCTION IMAGES