Albery Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane. Royal Shakespeare Company in residence. Corin Redgrave as Lear. Directed by Bill Alexander. 3 hrs 55 mins. including an interval
Redgrave is not a great or brilliant Lear, but he is a competent one, and this production has the advantage of presenting a very clear, well paced action, with characters well differentiated and clearly motivated. The action itself is allowed to take on a palpable momentum and to tell a terrible, horrifying story, that ends up being quite moving. This is the strength of Alexander’s production. Its weakness seems to be that Redgrave’s limitations affected the tone and style of the production overall. There were no real gradations in Redgrave’s performance; he is either colloquially matter-of-fact or extremely angry. We are meant, I think, to understand him as an old man with a hair-trigger temper, but he is not good at building to climaxes; there is a kind of all-or-nothing quality to his portrayal of a man who has ever “but slenderly known himself.” As he himself protests, he is “more sinned against than sinning.” The rest of the actors follow suit with the low-key colloquial —Goneril, Regan, and Edmund being the most prominent exceptions. Leo Wringer, a black actor, as the Fool speaks in a Jamaican or at any rate West Indies accent; he is very good but not outstanding in the combination of wisdom and pathos that the role requires.
All in all, a production that holds its audience through what seems to be the performance of an uncut or very lightly cut text. (There is a program note on author, play, and sources that mentions the considerable differences between the quarto and folio texts but does not indicate what text or texts (conflated, perhaps, as in the long, benighted tradition of what I like to call the Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations approach to textual preparation, popular since Pope) was or were used. A little more scholarship would not be amiss in a program from the Royal Shakespeare Company.