So the last report on Donmar Warehouse's King Lear was way back here, from the local arthouse HDcast. Same cast, almost the same barren set for the production's transfer to BAM, but the Harvey is a bigger space than tiny Donmar Warehouse, so we were curious to see how it would translate, both to a bigger theater and to flesh and blood.
Whether it was the effect of less time in the role, or just the camera leaching out a performance, Jacobi's Lear at BAM was more defined than came across on screen. There's a supremely childish edge to this elderly king, and in his elder daughters' interactions with him we can see this isn't anything to do with the onset of old age and wavering cognition -- he has always treated them this way, resorting to juvenile mockery when other modes of manipulation fail. Once the varnish of flattery and gain is scraped away, the fact that this has been the whole of their relationship with him is evident in both the seething impatience they each exhibit, and in the way it boils over. "I gave you all," says Lear. "And in good time you gave it," Regan (Justine Mitchell) replies. The audience gasps at her audacity, but we can understand, too, what motivates such a bald-faced outburst, because they've had to hold their tongues so long, no matter what the old man's treatment of them. "The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash," says Goneril (Gina McKee), describing the "imperfections of a long-ingraff'd condition". We'd probably want to strangle him too, and his reaction to their ultimate rebellion is as non-plussed as that of the man who habitually beats his dog and finds one day it turns and bites him.
Not that one would side with them of course...because, really, Edmund? Seriously?
Among the other things lost in the shuffle between stage and small screen was the Fool as he is elbowed out of Lear's life by the Madman. I'm not sure whether that fell victim to camera editing, or if I just missed it, but on stage it proved a really effective way of explaining the Fool's disappearance from the action, as well as underscoring the descent from purpose-serving lunacy to the abandonment of all purpose. As the King his companion is gradually wrenched from his grasp, the Fool sits splayed against the wall like a disused toy. The whiteface makeup he wears serves both to obscure his features and heighten the horror on them as he watches it all spiral out of control, the face he begins to wipe off as he watches Mad Tom lead the King away to a fate he can no longer share.
Oh and the last thing, also missed in the HD (no surprise, but really, people, what is Hi-Def for?): the sound of Gloucester's gouged-out eyeball hitting the wall when Cornwall flings it. It left a red splotch on the off-white paint as a reminder for the rest of the performance, and there was speculation all the way home on what they had actually used, an as yet unsolved question. Harder than a grape -- it bounced and rolled. Ew.