Kevin Berry speaks to the director of a new production of Lear.
When revising King Lear for A-level at her mother's kitchen table, Deborah Paige was completely engrossed. The rhythm of the play encouraged her to read out loud and drove her along, like a gripping thriller.
"I can remember that moment of discovery," Paige says. "I thought, 'This is the most exciting writing and it has such a modern feel'."
Now directing King Lear at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, Paige is intent on remaining faithful to Shakespeare's vision. She is using the later Folio text, rather than the Quarto version, because she finds it more exciting and it has the look of a writer's revision.
"We're trying to do what Shakespeare was doing, setting it in a pagan time, a world in which none of his contemporaries would have said, 'That wasn't like that!' " Paige has deliberately set out to invent the landscape of the play, a world with a great sense of mystery, a world where we don't know the boundaries or the moral codes.
Her Lear will be a militaristic king. He is played by Tim Barlow, an actor with the profile and presence of a Roman Emperor. Lear rules a world which has been largely successful, but now cracks are appearing and his kingdom cannot be sustained. It is very much the end of an era.
Military images have influenced the stage design - a sense of fortress or bunker inspired by old photographs of French gun shelters on the border with Germany. The soft earth floor will have a pit, recalling the many images of the earth opening up. It gives a feeling of the underworld and the underworld represents fear, which Paige sees as the main motivation in the play.
Lear is a bleak story but it can make us laugh as well as weep. "There are wonderful comic moments," says Paige. "The scene between Oswald and Kent when Kent is baited, tremendously funny; the scene where Lear gives the disguised Kent a letter to deliver; where Goneril is turned on by Edmund and she sighs - 'O! the difference of man and man!' - because her husband can't satisfy her. Unless you have humour like that, you can't take the tragedy."
The structure of the play owes something to traditional story-telling. "There is quite a fairy-story element at the start," says Paige. "We will see the three daughters as princesses, but that doesn't mean they then can't turn up with weapons in their hands - the sense of fairy-tale is also very mythic. "
Crucible Theatre October 31 to November 29. Tel: 0114 769922