There’s terror and pity in Shakespeare’s tragedy of natural order turned upside down and the idea of a man – a monarch – stripped of everything has spoken in different ways to audiences in its performance history. Interpretations of redemption and self-knowledge through suffering range from Christian allegory to psychological journey.

In Creation’s stark clear reading, director Douglas Rintoul turns a bright uncompromising light on the dysfunctional noble families at the story’s centre. There’s nowhere to hide in the vast hangar of Oxford’s BMW plant under Simon Hutching’s harsh industrial lighting, etching hard shadows on every entrance and exit.

Before a word is spoken, Goneril’s single-minded ruthlessness, Regan’s concupiscence and Cordelia’s discomfiture are plain from their faces and body language. It’s chilling to watch Lear literally wheeled in on a trolley, to walk into disaster of his own making with open eyes. His ‘blindness’ is indeed a precursor to Gloucester’s equally stubborn misreading of his sons and literal blindness later in the play.

All three sisters, iconically clad in black (Goneril) scarlet (Regan) and white (Cordelia), are convincing in their dealings with their wayward parent – and their sibling rivalry. The taut iciness of Eleanor Montgomery’s tiny whiplash of a Goneril contrasts with the voluptuous menace of Charlotte Lucas’ Regan and Jenni Maitland’s sad, dignified Cordelia sees right through them both. She also plays the Fool, a doubling with poetic logic that is often effective in this play. For the Fool is there to watch over Lear, when Cordelia cannot, and use the apparent madness of his foolery to make him see more clearly.

Creation makes a virtue out of the necessity of doubling for economic as well as artistic reasons. Usually this works well and indeed Richard Cunningham’s doubling of Regan’s cruel husband, Cornwall with Goneril’s worm-like servant Oswald, and Andrew MacBean’s vigorous Gloucester with Goneril’s well-meaning husband Albany, work well enough. But Darren Ormandy’s doubling of Edmund, Gloucester’s unscrupulous bastard son, with Lear’s loyal servant, Kent, is more problematic, despite his undeniably skilled Brechtian transformations through costume and body language stage-centre. Perhaps there’s too much contrast between these intrinsically good and evil characters for either to make a convincing journey, as played here by one actor.

In the title role, Stephen Ley comes into his own as Lear descends into the freedom of madness to win audience sympathy, well-matched by Gareth Kennerley as Edgar, Gloucester’s cast-out son, who feigns madness to lead the journey to knowledge of self and compassion for others.

- Judi Herman