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Jayne Houdyshell & Glenda Jackson in King Lear

A New York Theatre Guide to... King Lear!

Here's all you need to know about the Broadway revival of Shakespeare's great tragedy...

Tom Millward
Tom Millward

Arguably William Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, King Lear celebrates its twentieth staging on the Great White Way this season with this gender-blind revival at the Cort Theatre. Under the direction of Tony Award winner Sam Gold, previews began on February 28, 2019, before an official opening on April 4 and a limited engagement currently scheduled to run through to July 7, 2019.


What's it all about?

"When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools..." Derived from the tale of the legendary king of the Britons, Leir, King Lear follows the ageing monarch as he divides his kingdom between his daughters and begins his slow deterioration into madness (or what nowadays would be described as dementia). Although once favored by the king, his youngest daughter Cordelia is disinherited after she decides to stay true and fails to exaggerate her love for her father in bargaining for a share of his realm. Therefore, the kingdom is divided equally between her two older sisters, Goneril and Regan, who manipulated the old man with their false declarations of undying love. After they have seized power, they turn on their father, who is eventually left impotent and wandering through the storm with only his fool as a companion. What follows is a complex and interwoven tale of both bitter betrayal and unflinching loyalty; of murder and sacrifice; of unconditional love and unspeakable tragedy...


Who's starring in it?

The greatest actors of each generation have, in turn, taken on the titular role in King Lear and the honor falls once again to Glenda Jackson, fresh from her Tony Award win in last season's Three Tall Women by Edward Albee. She previously made her triumphant return to the stage taking on the role in a 2016 production at London's Old Vic, following almost 23 years in office as a Member of Parliament in the UK, and, luckily for New York audiences, was enticed back to the role for an all-new Broadway revival by producer Scott Rudin. This magnificent octogenarian has enjoyed an outstanding career both on the Broadway stage (having earned four Tony Award nominations prior to her 2018 win) and on the silver screen (including Oscar-winning performances in "Women in Love" and "A Touch of Class" and Oscar-nominated performances in "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Hedda" in the 1970s). She is joined by a stellar cast of Broadway veterans and screen stars, including Tony Award winner Jayne Houdyshell (also gender-bending as the Earl of Gloucetser), Elizabeth Marvel (as Goneril), Tony Award nominee John Douglas Thompson (as the Earl of Kent), and Golden Globe winner and 2-time Tony Award nominee Ruth Wilson, who gives a Shakespearean master class doubling up as both Cordelia and the Fool.


What's special about this production?

Aside from Miriam Buether's striking set design that happens to have a mighty Trump Tower likeness about it, what remains with you after seeing this revival of King Lear is an unwavering respect for Glenda Jackson as a performer. There aren't many actors still working into their eighties that can boast both the legendary status and the work ethic that Ms. Jackson does. During Act I, you disregard the potentially gimmicky aspect of gender-blind casting and you see her as nothing other than a King in turmoil. Equally as commanding is Ruth Wilson's performance as Cordelia and the Fool. Still in her thirties, her portrayal of the Fool in particular is way beyond her years, exuding confidence, injecting pace and revelling in the interactions with both fellow cast members and audience members alike.


Who would recommend it to?

As this particular revival of King Lear isn't the most accessible, we'd recommend this production to hardened aficionados of Shakespeare, as opposed to Shakespeare neophytes. Those who already have a firmer understanding of the twists and turns in the plot of this tragedy - and who have seen the titular role tackled by stage veterans of the past - are much more likely to experience a rewarding afternoon or evening at the Cort Theatre.


King Lear Tickets are available now.

(Photo by Brigitte Lacombe​)


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