King Lear has been through so many indignities – compromised by his vanity, betrayed by hypocrites, abandoned to madness – that it seems crueller still that he endured a theatrical boycott. The play “has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting”, wrote one of its severest critics, and for more than a century it was staged in a sanitised version with a happy ending.
That may explain why so few theatres in this country have staged Shakespeare’s depiction of family and state breakdown (the Abbey’s last production was in 1930), or why it has recently been easier to find shows about King Lear (Everyone Is King Lear in His Own Home, The Cordelia Dream, Testament) than a production of the play itself .
Director Selina Cartmell, who has already brought stunning life to Shakespeare’s “problem play” Titus Andronicus and surreal menace to Macbeth, now takes on the Bard’s bleakest tragedy for the Abbey. Cartmell’s longtime collaborator, Owen Roe, stars as the king slipping into raging torment.
Few directors have found as much grandeur in gloom as Cartmell, who, paradoxically, brings great illumination to tales of darkness. “Nothing will come of nothing,” goes Lear’s challenge to his only sincere daughter, Cordelia. In Cartmell’s hands, that could be truly something.
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Pinter x4 Pearse Centre, Dublin