O, reason not the need!

Recently I went to see King Lear at the Globe. One of my favourite A-level texts, I went with the some school-friends to relive our A-levels, and we were amazed by just how much we could still quote – we were obviously taught well! Lear is an odd play, I think. A slightly silly plot (man gives away property to daughters based on how much they claim to love him; war and madness ensue), it seems like the end of a Shakespearean comedy rather than the beginning of a tragedy. It seems less about filial affection, and property, than about reason, madness and human nature, to me. The programme talked about homelessness being central to the plot, which I suppose it is, but only in the sense of what we need – one of those things, we assume, being a home (emotionally and mentally as well as physically). And yet Lear claims (in his madness) that we need none of those things we assume we need:
O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beasts.
David Calder’s Lear was perfectly judged – venerable yet vulnerable in his madness, he was a traditional yet utterly believable Lear, opening himself to the heavens on the heath (at which point it obligingly rained). The Fool, played by Danny Lee Wynter (Joe’s Palace, Hot Fuzz), so difficult to get right, was both unnerving and comic, echoing Lear’s madness and attempting to get him to face it. I was however slightly disappointed by Edgar and Edmund – the former seemed to lack the gravitas needed, particularly in the closing lines of the play, while the latter was, well, not quite sexy enough for the dastardly villain he plays – but this may be because our teen-age minds were clouded somewhat by seeing Adrian Dunbar as Edmund at the Royal Court in (I think) 1993…. The mark of conviction in a performance is when you know what’s going to happen (here, Gloucester’s eyes; Cordelia’s fate) and you are still on the edge of your seat somehow praying for a reversal of the inevitable, and I certainly felt that here.
I’ll resist deconstructing the play itself, but suffice to say I highly recommend this – it shows King Lear as everything it should be – tragic, funny, moving, unsettling, cathartic; and indeed the Globe itself, with its attempts to give an authentic experience, with only the faintest whiff of commercial tourism.

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