Set play

4th May 2001 at 01:00
KING LEAR. Shakespeare's Globe.

Ten years ago, Barry Kyle directed King Lear in Prague. It was a momentous time. The Czech revolution had just thrown off the shackles of communism. A new world was being created. Kyle's production directly reflected political events, celebrating the fall of Stalinism. He even had a statue of Lenin on stage.

Now Kyle directs King Lear at the Bankside Globe. He stresses that, unlike the Lear of those heady days, his new production is not guided by an overtly ideological concept. But there will be obvious contemporary relevances. Kyle argues that just as Shakespeare's first audiences responded with horror to Lear's line, "Know that we have divided in three our kingdom", so in our own history we have seen the tragic consequences of partition in Ireland and India. "And right at this moment, the play finds echoes in the troubling issues of devolution and Britain's relationship with Europe."

Kyle relishes the opportunities the Globe offers, but he points out that certain features of King Lear suggest that it was not originally conceived for that stage. "This is not a balcony play like Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra. There is no use of the understage. The highly decorative, courtly environment of the Globe stage is not present in the play. Only the opening scene is in the court." Although the first recorded performance in 1606 wasat Whitehall Palace before King James, Kyle suspects that "Shakespeare surely did his dress rehearsal at the Globe". He feels that today's Globe environment will release particular energies of the play. There will be vigorous interaction between the stage and the yard, with its 600 standing spectators. Edmund will begin his first speech there. His repeated use of "base" will acquire special resonance among the groundlings.

For Kyle, the play dramatises the end of an era. Lear's older, Celtic world, rooted in a long-ago past, is giving place to a new individualism. The costumes will be Jacobean, but they will gradually change as Edmund, Regan and Goneril seize power. The divide between the two generations will become increasingly clear. As always at the Globe, lucid storytelling will characterise Kyle's production. The trials of the divided families of Lear and Gloucester will be portrayed in the context of their political and cosmic settings. Lear will be a king, a father, and a mortal in dialogue with a mystical world. As Kyle puts it, Lear's tragedy unfolds "against the quiet descant of the divine".

And what a Lear: Julian Glover brings to the role an extraordinary ability to convey authority and nobility, and to find pathos in madness. The Globe and Lear are a must for this summer.

Rex Gibson

From May 12 to September 21. Box office: 020 7401 9919

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