Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
As I slumped into my seat at The Crucible, I thought I had come to the wrong place. I found myself viewing a building site, dusty, noisy with a cement mixer grinding away and men in hard hats rushing around. And then, an accident, a dead man carried in, hit with an axe by a fellow worker. The play had begun. They were building a wall to protect the kingdom, and Lear and his two daughters were inspecting the creation. Undoubredly, amidst a night of Symbols, Similes and Superlatives, one of the heroes was the Crucible thrust stage, with all its capabilities demonstrated to full degree.
The audience was separated from the plot by the wall in construction, and the actors moved effortlessly around the many levels: the site itself, a high reviewing stand, a cave for the family, a trapdoor used as a well and a prison, a backdrop with cages and pillars. Lear was triumphant, reviewing the marching troops, relying on the armies provided by his sons-in-law to defend the kingdom - too bad that the daughters had fallen for the husbands only by inspection of their photographs.
Chaos follows war and death follows chaos: everyone shouts that Lear is mad. But he alone demonstrates sanity in the midst of the violence. Deaths abound, and a bloodthirsty doctor obligingly identifies the cause of death of one daughter in an on-stage necropsy. As an encore he produces a machine which removes Lear's eyes.
In the midst, simple families are tortured and raped, so it is not only the powerful who suffer in revolution.
Explaining that truth without power is dangerous, Lear moves to complete his wall.
This is a moving play, beautifully and forcefully acted from high to low, and with enough issues to warrant thoughts and nightmares for many nights to come. Ian McDiarmid as Lear was forceful, pathetic and majestic, a Lear with a difference, but certainly not mad.
Reviewer: Philip Seager