King Lear

William Shakespeare

Ovation DVD

£19.99

(2006)

Review by Philip Fisher

The recorded DVD or video is providing theatre lovers with wonderful opportunities to see landmark productions and performances.

Sir Ian Holm's Lear, performed for another theatrical knight Sir Richard Eyre, scooped the pot when it came to Best Actor awards for 1997.

It could be argued that not only did Sir Ian win "the big three", for his incredible portrayal of an old man who gives away his kingdom with terrible consequences, but this was also the performance that earned him that knighthood.

Sir Ian is absolutely remarkable, whether granting beneficence and his kingdom to undeserving daughters; railing against them, whip in hand; or falling victim to a madness that eventually sees him in the garb and guise of his Fool. The experienced actor gives his all and fully deserves his awards.

This production, which was born at the National Theatre, is also graced with one of the strongest supporting casts that the play can ever have seen.

To start near the top of the age scale, Timothy West is Gloucester, a foolish man who mirrors his King, believing that his duplicitous, bastard son Edmond, played with sinister relish by Finbar Lynch, is good; at the expense of the mild-natured, ineffectual Edgar (Paul Rhys), who is cast out as a villain.

Another mirror to the King is his Fool, a surprisingly robust servant who may look like a garden gnome but is far wiser than the man whom he serves. He is played to perfection by that much-lamented but fondly remembered actor Michael Bryant.

The last representative of the older generation is David Burke as the King's "minder" Kent. This is a good man who would rather risk death than accept banishment while his leader needs him.

More central to the action are Lear's three daughters. Barbara Flynn and Amanda Redman play the baddies Goneril and Regan, and imbue them not only with the standard level of evil but also some sympathy at their impatience with a father who can never have been easy to live with, particularly as he favoured his youngest daughter Cordelia above them.

Victoria Hamilton is wonderful in this part, smiling through tears but determinedly her father's daughter as she refuses to accept her birthright while he is not in sound mind. Her horror at seeing the maddened old man is also something special to behold.

The two-and-a-quarter hours are constantly gripping, both for universally excellent acting and also Sir Richard Eyre's vision, which reaches particular heights as Lear and his companions set off across the blasted heath; and again as Gloucester, blinded by the will of his master's daughters and more gruesomely, the fingers of Michael Simkins' Cornwall, is reconciled with his son Edgar on Dover beach.

The ending is touching, as the defeated old man at long last succumbs to welcome death joining his three dead daughters and finally achieving peace.

The BBC is to be praised for recording this definitive King Lear and it should become an integral part of any theatre lover's DVD collection.