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REVIEW ROUNDUP: Derek Jacobi Opens in King Lear at London's Donmar Warehouse

Derek Jacobi in King Lear
(© Johan Persson)
Michael Grandage's production of King Lear officially opened at the Donmar Warehouse on December 7. Starring Derek Jacobi in the title role, the production is scheduled to run through February 3. As previously reported, the production is both slated to be broadcast as part of the NT Live series, and tour both the U.K. and U.S. In New York, the production, as previously announced, will be seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, running April 28 - June 5.

Shakespeare's play focuses on an aging English monarch as he faces a reversal of his fortunes at the hands of his daughters. The production also features Pippa Bennett-Warner (Cordelia), Ron Cook (Fool), Michael Hadley (Earl of Kent), Paul Jesson (Earl of Gloucester), Gina McKee (Goneril), and Justine Mitchell (Regan).

The production has been designed by Christopher Oram and has lighting design by Neil Austin and original music and sound design by Adam Cork.

A majority of the U.K. dailies and online services have published their responses to the piece, and reaction is generally glowing for Jacobi's work, Grandage's staging and the work of the company overall.

Among the reviews are:

Daily Telegraph
King Lear, Donmar Warehouse, review
"Michael Grandage's production proves outstanding, the finest and most searching Lear I have ever seen, and in this small space it often achieves a shattering power. But the director and his tremendous company also see the play steadily and see it whole. They capture the great epic sweep of the tragedy, but they are also alert to the detail in the text. Almost every performance seems fresh-minted and psychologically persuasive. I didn't spot a single moment of hollow bluster."

"Christopher Oram's characteristically simple design, brilliantly lit by Neil Austin, consists of nothing more than whitewashed planks. There is no attempt to evoke a particular time and place. The play itself is allowed to conjure its own world through the power of Shakespeare's words and the strength and detail of the performances."

"At less than three hours, this Lear hurtles along and you emerge feeling shaken, deeply moved and curiously uplifted - the infallible signs of a great tragic production."

Evening Standard
At last, Derek Jacobi is the King of Lears
"There's also a clear sense of the drama's paradoxes -- Jacobi manages to be simultaneously sympathetic and grotesque. He is at his best when portraying the character's madness: touring his country's unfamiliar wilderness, his self-discovery is poignant. There are flickers of comedy, too, and, perhaps most surprisingly, at the moment when we expect him to roar, he delicately whispers."

"It's emotionally satisfying, and -- as if one needed reminding -- shows that Jacobi is an actor of rare technical skill and integrity."

The Guardian
King Lear
"...the miracle of Michael Grandage's production is that it is fast (under three hours), vivid, clear and, thanks to a performance that reminds us why Derek Jacobi is a great classical actor, overwhelmingly moving."

" is Jacobi's Lear that drives the production. And what is truly astonishing is the way he combines Lear's spiritual trajectory from blind arrogance to impotent wisdom with a sense of the character's tumultuous contradictions. Even the rubicund features and close-cropped white hair suggest a mix of military autocrat and merry patriarch."

"And there is intelligent support all round. Gina McKee's calculating Goneril is excellently contrasted with Justine Mitchell's manic Regan, driven into gleeful hysteria by the blinding of Paul Jesson's credulous Gloucester. Alec Newman's wickedly self-willed Edmund is also ideally offset by the transformative virtue of Gwilym Lee's Edgar."

The Independent
First Night: King Lear, Donmar Warehouse, London
"He is the most exacting and pernickety of actors, Derek Jacobi, which means that his long-awaited Lear will never open the floodgates. There's something guarded and "worked out" about it, but it is most beautifully spoken and detailed. It's also terribly polite."

"You want to see the human animal laid bare. And though Jacobi mercifully spares us the literal self-exposure of Ian McKellen and Ian Holm in the role, he keeps too many secrets. Maybe that's the point, and I missed it!"

The Stage
King Lear
"Fast and furious, Michael Grandage's characteristically lucid and engaging revival of the greatest play in our language, led by a robust and vigorously querulous Derek Jacobi in the title role, looks built to last."

"This is not a politically detailed or extravagant Lear like the two latest RSC versions with Ian McKellen and Greg Hicks. It is fraught and concentrated, with Goneril and Regan (Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell) more watchful and rivalrous than voracious and fire-breathing. Alec Newman's Edmund is an ebullient bastard, Gwilym Lee his fraternal madman in disguise. Michael Hadley is a striking Kent, making a wonderful meal of his litany of insults."
King Lear (Donmar)
"Jacobi's Lear is a man of camp, capriciousness whose mood shifts from sunny levity to a darker disposition. The "blow winds and crack your cheeks" speech is delivered in a hushed monotone, eyes firmly closed as if it were an incantation."

"The production is blessed with strong performances from Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell as Goneril and Regan. McKee particularly is a smouldering presence..."

"This is a rapid Lear [...] and Grandage's clear and uncluttered production, coupled with Christopher Oram's simple bare-boarded set, gets straight to the heart of the tragedy. What's missing is some of the political dimension that presents crumbling England but Jacobi's wise-cracking, fragile and ultimately human Lear is a compelling presence."

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