“King Lear” at BAM is Shakespeare Chic

Christian Lewis
5 min readApr 20, 2018

“King Lear” is one of those Shakespeare plays that you have probably seen too many times, right up there with “Macbeth” and “Hamlet.” What makes “King Lear” loveable for performers and audience members alike is its iconic moments: Lear dividing his kingdom, the massive storm, the blinding of Gloucester, the death of the sisters, and the mad king carrying on his dead daughter.

Though the play may have some incredible moments, the main reason it is a staple of many theatrical seasons is its starring role. King Lear is the role of a lifetime, and in this Royal Shakespeare Company production, Anthony Sher gives an iconic performance. He takes in every ounce of power and madness and insecurity and bellows it out, commanding the entire theater. Sher’s stage presence is unprecedented, whether he is on a platform screaming or curled in a ball whispering, he is captivating. The audience is in the palm of his hand the entire show.

What makes Sher so monarchical (pun intended) is perhaps his vocal technique. To play Lear, Sher speaks in such a horrifying guttural that it is impossible to listen to or look at anyone else. It is terrifying and painful and almost disgusting — in short, it is perfect for an aged, privileged, spoiled, senile king.

From the very start of the piece, Lear is set up to be our villain, a certainly unique and fresh take by Gregory Doran, the director. Usually the bastard Edmund is the central villain, destroying his brother Edgar’s life, seducing both Goneril and Regan, and ordering the murder of Cordelia and Lear. The aforementioned Goneril and Regan also usually provide some villainy by being unwelcoming hosts to their father and also gouging out Gloucester’s eyes, with the help of the Duke of Cornwall, or course.

But in this production, Edmund, Regan, and Goneril all seemed to have legitimate grievances. Edmund, played by the spectacular Paapa Essiedu, endears the audience to his plight as the unfairly rejected brother from the moment he steps on the stage. For once, he is not a villain, just someone with a gripe who wants to advance in the world. Essiedu is definitively the next strongest actor…

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Christian Lewis

Theater Critic. Vassar College alum, current PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center.