The Globe is transformed for this first production of the theatre season. A rough plank facing hides the familiar decorated back of the stage, and swags of fairy-lit leaves and twigs are looped around the galleries. The latter add to a sense of occasion, but not perhaps the right one, being too reminiscent of a high street shop window at Christmas. The rough boards are, however, in keeping with the directness of Barry Kyle's production.
The interlinked stories of the two families of Lear and Gloucester provide a means of exploring wider disintegration, the breakdown of authority and accepted sexual morality, madness and civil strife. In Kyle's interpretation, there is more than a hint that Lear's action in breaking up the kingdom and attempting to divest himself of responsibility merely reveals the canker within. Kyle has said (not in the programme notes) that he would like people to guess from their looks that each of Lear's daughters has a different mother. Gloucester's only reference to the two women who gave birth to his sons, legitimate Edgar and bastard Edmund, is that there was sport at Edmund's conception. The sexual chaos which is the corollary of the political disintegration is expressed in the changing behaviour of Lear's elder daughters, Goneril(Patricia Kerrigan) and Regan (Felicity Dean), both intent on seducing Edmund, as they change from buttoned-up respectability to bosom-revealing temptresses. For them, the spiral of death, torture and betrayal also represents a perverse liberation from the constraints of their father's household.
Julian Glover's Lear is a vigorous authoritarian, young for his 80 years. His performance is well crafted rather than moving. His clear verse-speaking serves the production well, clarity being its virtue.
The Globe has an effect on the play; the audience is such a presence there. Some critics have made much of the intervention of one voice which endangered concentration during the final scenes - an American woman who suggested that Edmund could have both mistresses - but for the rest of the time, young and old were focused on the action, helped by a judicious use of the yard.
When Edmund talks about his baseness he involves the groundlings around him and makes them complicit in his machinations. There is genuine humour in the play, which the production shows to advantage. John McEnery as the Fool, a wise, raddled figure who speaks with the voice of experience, is outstanding.
Tickets: 020 7401 9919. Information about education-related events: 020 7902 1430