Feeling His Howl of Pain; Life's Cruelties: David Calder's King Lear, Agonising over the Death of Daughter Cordelia (Jodie McNee), Scales Heights of Pathos

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

THEATRE King Lear Shakespeare's Globe

I COULD hardly believe my eyes or ears, let alone my astonished heart.

In a location often associated with rough and unready Shakespeare, I soon foundmyself as overwhelmed by David Calder's King Lear as any interpretation I haveseen in 25 years.

It is the rare, real, tragic thing. It puts Sir Ian McKellen's recent, winsomeold King with the Royal Shakespeare Company where it belongsdeep in the shade. I use the qualifying word "soon" because initially Calder'sLear, in a production by Dominic Dromgoole that fitfully draws the tragedy backto its proper, pagan setting, does not strike all the right notes.

This white-bearded monarch adopts the breezy air of a dyspeptic, Edwardiancolonel, apparently untouched by infirmity of mind or body, who makes light ofhis old age.

He revels in a talent to abuse each of his three disappointing daughters,without suggesting the pain that underlies the cursing bluster.

All that changes in a riveting trice.

The two wicked sisters, Sally Bretton's undangerous Goneril and Kellie Bright'schilling Regan, who later throws away one of Gloucester's excised eyes as if itwere disagreable litter and removes the other herself, help tip the balance ofhis mind.

"Do not make me mad," Calder snarls, as if he were referring to simple fury. …