facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse

First Published 8 December 2010, Last Updated 30 May 2018

Michael Grandage directs Derek Jacobi in a typically fuss-free production at the Donmar Warehouse which sets the politics, battles and infighting against an austere white background.

In fact, Christopher Oram’s design – which encases the entire auditorium in wood panelling with a distressed paint effect – brings a sense of claustrophobia to this King Lear. It is a stark, disorientating backdrop which seems to suggest something of the equally disorientated mind of King Lear as his mental disintegration progresses.

Lack of props means audiences for this minimalist production must use their imagination to conjure the many different locations in King Lear: the palace, the heath, the town of Dover. Neil Austin’s lighting and Adam Cork’s sound are aids in this, evoking battles on the horizon and moving us from indoors to outdoors, but a hefty dose of visualisation is still necessary.

Right from the start Jacobi’s Lear is childlike. Like a spoilt only child used to getting his own way, he is petulant and melodramatic when he doesn’t. His over-reaction to youngest daughter Cordelia’s refusal to pander to him comes from an ego unused to being so bruised.

The tone is therefore well established by Jacobi for the King’s descent into madness, exacerbated by the betrayal of his elder daughters, Goneril and Regan. Becoming ever more childlike – with flashes of adult wrath – he moves and speaks with the demeanour of a small child, encouraged by his ever-present Fool.

Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell are effective as sisters Goneril and Regan, whose devious self-promotion gives them the upper hand over the men in the play on many occasions; at one point Goneril literally has her husband by the balls. Both lust understandably after Alec Newman’s dashing, conniving Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester’s illegitimate son, who is doing some scheming of his own. A victim both of Edmund’s plans and the sisters’ spite, Gloucester (Paul Jesson) is a sympathetic figure, brutally abused by others. Here the simplicity of the set comes into its own, highlighting the gory horror of Gloucester’s eye-gouging. Deemed a traitor, blood spills from his eyes, vivid red against white.

Amid all the backstabbing – sometimes literally – and infighting, the relationship between the outcast Edgar (Gwilym Lee) and his blinded father Gloucester is particularly touching.

So too are Lear’s final scenes. Wearing a cream smock – a contrast to the dark robes of the rest of the cast – Jacobi cradles Pippa Bennett-Warner’s lifeless Cordelia in his arms, his face becoming ever redder and his eyes watering in his anguish.



Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.