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Review Round-Ups

Were the critics mad for Glenda Jackson's Lear?

The actress returned to the stage on Friday after 25 years in politics

Lucinda Everett, WhatsOnStage


"There is much to praise in [Jackson's] performance, not least her astounding stamina. She steams out of the blocks, hissing her way through her rejection of Cordelia, howling at her own mistreatment – all with a captivating commitment. Later, however, her stature and quieter vocal approach come into their own, combining to give a beautiful gentleness to Lear's descent into madness."

"A female Lear isn't the only daring choice in Deborah Warner's production; modernity and metatheatricality shine from the stage throughout."

"There are many perfectly-pitched moments but a crowd favourite was Edmond's speech about the supposed inferiority of bastards, which he delivers while performing feats of physical prowess.The actor in question, Simon Manyonda, is one of the strongest in the excellent star-filled cast, which also includes a dangerously oversexed Jane Horrocks as Regan and a briskly callous Celia Imrie as Goneril. Rhys Ifans brings welcome levity as Lear's Fool."

"There is a much to marvel at."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"[Jackson] is tremendous in the role. In an uncanny way, she transcends gender. What you see, in Deborah Warner's striking modern-dress production, is an unflinching, non-linear portrait of the volatility of old age. Jackson, like all the best Lears, shifts in a moment between madness and sanity, anger and tenderness, vocal force and physical frailty."

"Some of the details are decidedly peculiar: both Edmund and Edgar display their buttocks to the audience making me wonder if mooning is a family trait. And when Regan hurled part of Gloucester's gouged eye into the audience, I worried that, as the panto season approaches, someone might throw it back."

"Celia Imrie's grimly determined Goneril and Jane Horrocks's sexually excitable Regan are sharply distinguished. Morfydd Clark as Cordelia intriguingly suggests a belated passion for Sargon Yelda's Kent."

"Even if Hamlet and Macbeth are greater plays, Jackson's performance catches perfectly the zigzag patterns of Lear's mix of insight and insanity."

Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph


"Glenda Jackson is tremendous as King Lear. One of those 11th-hour feats of human endeavour that will surely be talked about for years to come by those who see it."

"Jackson is allowed to be herself (there's no male impersonation) but the lines haven't been modified to alter Lear's masculinity; this is a Glenda-bended, not a gender-bended production."

"If the rantings in the storm scene are upstaged by the effects (billowing black-plastic sheeting, video projection conjuring a weather apocalypse) the aftermath – in which Lear is reduced to long-socks and an over-shirt, moves into the terrain of hard-won pathos. The last moments, as Jackson cradles the dead Cordelia, and suddenly goes limp herself, head thrown back, are exquisitely stirring."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"It turns out there's no vocal warm up quite like a quarter century of parliamentary scrapping. Fierce and flinty, Jackson looks like she was hewn from rock and her voice sounds like it could split mountains. She plays Lear as a man for the sake of not monkeying wth the words, but gender doesn't feel like a big deal here: this Lear is more elemental than that."

"In many respects this is the Deborah Warner show and the results are mixed. Co-designed by Warner and Jean Kalman, storm scene excepted the set is a series of blank white screens that look halfway between a TV studio and an art gallery."

"I wonder if Jackson's performance really gains anything from Warner's production, but fair play to her for pairing with an interesting director for this comeback. And it really does feel like a comeback: not a last lap of honour, but the return of a great actor with more to give."

Paul Taylor, The Independent


"Watching Deborah Warner's modern-dress production at the Old Vic, you simply can't believe that Jackson has not been on stage for 25 years."

"Hers is a portrayal of the hero that passionately vindicates the principle that, when it comes to casting, it's the insights and instincts of the performer and not his or her gender that's of paramount importance."

"Warner's production is uneven and unmissable – offering, at its best, a powerfully imaginative vision of the stark, pitiless incoherence of the universe in King Lear. The storm and heath are thrillingly communicated."

King Lear runs at the Old Vic until 3 December.