- King Lear, and: Antony and Cleopatra
The initial entrance of Lear in David Farr's production immediately set the stage for one of the most complex and multi-faceted Lears an audience is ever likely to see. The audience saw Lear's knights entering and positioning themselves at the back, waiting for their king. Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Kent, Albany, and Cornwall had all taken up positions [End Page 531] on stage, waiting for Lear to enter. All characters' and spectators' expectations were focused on Lear entering from the back and all eyes were turned that way, helped along by the theatre spotlights, which were firmly set on an opening upstage. Lear, however, was not where we expected him to be, and after a prolonged silence, in which everyone on stage seemed to be holding their breath, an unexpected burst of laughter could be heard from the diagonal walkway which entered downstage right in the thrust stage Courtyard Theatre. The laugh seemed to come from the audience itself, and as the laughter continued, the spotlights, the audience, and the characters on stage finally found Lear, who continued walking slowly around the stage, looking at his daughters and knights before he finally spoke his first line on the business of Burgundy and France.
This mini-narrative showed us a Lear who loved to play games, who was having a good time, and who liked to take the audience with him on his jokes. He visibly enjoyed these little pranks, and continued to do so, right up until the end, when he gleefully ran away from Cordelia's soldiers, or jokingly shot wildflowers at them with an imaginary bow. However, the first few moments also revealed a Lear who wanted to be in absolute control, a Lear who manipulated those around him and thought he could do anything he liked. It was he who determined the pace of the scene as he slowly walked from one character to another, watching them, revealing a man who thought he owned his soldiers, his nobles, and his daughters. This Lear was not a nice man; he was a difficult man, a king who demanded absolute and unquestioning loyalty. In the ensuing scene this demand for loyalty was expressed with a strong and humiliating visual image when he ordered Kent to kneel and kiss his sword.
Lear's wrong-footing of the audience and the characters also made audience and characters nervous about what he was going to do next. It was this unease which allowed the production to avoid any easy sentimentality, for example in Lear's scene with the blind Gloucester, when he unexpectedly wiped the blood of Gloucester's cheek and licked it, or when he put his hands on Gloucester's eyes, asking him to read, but then immediately afterwards gently cradled him. The set paralleled the unsettling elements in...