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King Lear (EIF)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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I have seen solo performances of Hamlet and Macbeth (the latter with a compelling and tragically haunted Stephen Dillane), but I have never seen one man (or indeed woman) take on King Lear.

Even the great barnstormer Donald Wolfit was said by Kenneth Tynan to have played King Lear in a full dress production – and lost. Taiwanese legendary actor and director Wu Hsing-kuo considers the challenge and takes a tour round the Matterhorn.

It’s an act of hubris to match Lear’s own, and Mr Wu wows us in the finest traditions of the Peking Opera, executing his moves and shrieks, his rumblings and his ramblings, with a devastating technical prowess and precision.

First, he is the fully costumed madman in the teeth of the storm. Then, he is the Fool, flaunting Lear’s beard on a stick, and quick-changing to Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, blind Gloucester on the Dover cliffs and both his sons.

Each character becomes an aspect of Lear himself, and of the actor, too. To wit, to Wu falls the responsibility of cleansing the actor of all impersonations and laying himself bare in the face of a new task.

So, the show is a meditation on the play, but also a ritualistic meditation on the actor’s craft and calling, and Mr Wu stands before us, modestly and tearfully, craving our applause to help him on his way.

This we grant him, unreservedly. The show is the International Festival’s upmarket answer to stand-up satiety on the fringe, and does at the very least make a bit of a nice change from Russell Kane and Tim Vine.


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