Brian Cox’s Lear captures the worldly sell-conﬁdence and tragile vulnerability ol old age.
the most extraordinary things. I say “Be my i
horses ready?” and the fool says, “Thy asses are gone about ‘em,” and they laughed! All those psychotic images, they are engaged with — the nature of men as asses and men as horse bearers.
‘Three separate people came up,‘ he continues, ‘and said they sympathised with the daughters and felt very sad and moved by the reconciliation between Lear and Cordelia, and how sad it was for them, the inmates, not to have had any form of reconciliation before they’d murdered their parents. Interestingly, from the players’ point of view, it was the perfect combination of feeling and thought coming through. The feeling and the intellectual power ofthe play were locked together which is what Shakespeare is about, it’s a musical experience.’
The production might not have altered as a result of the Broadmoor performance, but its success there undoubtedly owes much to the fine degree of observation with which Cox invests his role. His portrayal of the king enraged by his youngest daughter’s
naive honesty and ensnared by the superficial flatteries of her elder sisters, encapsulates both the worldly self-confidence and the fragile vulnerability of old age. “The nicest letter I‘ve had,’ says Cox, ‘is from a geriatric nurse who’s full of praise for the celebration ofold people. I’ve seen it happen. I saw my father-in-law die, my own mother too, though she was a lot younger. That fine line between eccentricity and madness. When old people are on their death beds, the son will go and see his father and the father says, “Hello, Dad”. That confusion happens a lot. King Lear is this man who has all this history, but at the end ofthe day, he has the same fate as all of us. He will go into a twilight period of his life. He’s a man who shits and talks and he’s a king.‘
King Lear and Richard III are at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 5—Sat 9 Mar. See Theatre listings for details. Salem T0 Moscow by Brian Cox is published by Methuen at£l4. 99.
Ian Mcltellen ls sitting In one comer ol the National Theatre stall canteen, throwing back a speedy lunch only minutes before his llnal call. With his chunky white lisherman’s jumper and llop ol unruly hair, his pale blue eyes darting about the room, he bares little resemblance to the still-jointed, clean-cut, nab-Nazi despot he is about to become in the title role ol Richard III. ‘Somebody said they thought I was too allectionate with the princes when they arrive in London, rustling their heads and so on,’ he says, reaching his arm across the table in illustration. ‘Two days Iaterthere was Saddam Hussein doing exactly that. It wasn’t me copying Saddam, it was Shakespeare having understood it all. it you trust Shakespeare totally and go with him, you’ll tlnd that he's preligured everything in your own Ilie as well as your public lile.’
Shakespeare might have known about human nature, but he also knew a good story when he heard one. Until shortly alter his death on the battlelleid In 1485, Richard lll was just another nobleman who had slugged his way to the throne. lie ate, drank, slept, married, kept his sword at the ready and occasionally bathed. Then history went to work on him, so that by the end ol the 1500s, he had become, In popular lore, an ‘erlsh-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog'.
The 16th century was clearly a rocky one tor Richard. As both a usurper and the last king belore the lengthy reign oi the Tudors (1485—1603), he was singled out as the symbol at how chaotic and unhappy lite had been in pro-Tudor England. As historians tripped over each other to come up with the most stinging diatribe, good deeds were eibowed out at the picture, while dark rumours were blackened, magnltled and hardened into historical truth.
In 1597 Shakespeare published the apotheosls oi Richard III as a ‘iump ol toul delonnlty’, upon which ‘sln, death and hell have set their marks'. Naturally, the line between tact and tictlon blurred, so let's put some things about Richard back in locus:
FICTION: lie was so grotesquer delormed as to resemble a ‘bottled splder’ or a ‘hunch back’d toad'.
FACT: Though one oI his shoulders was slightly raised, there is no evidence aﬂWhewJo suggest that he
was anything like the play’s lire-breathing Ouaslmodo.
FICTION: Murdertoll: his own wile Anne, Henry VI and his son Prince Edward, Clarence, several nobleman, and two child princes.
FACT: Though he did do away with the noblemen and perhaps the child princes, the rest Is calumny. He had no part in the death ol Prince Edward, Anne died ot natural causes and it was Edward IV who snulled out Clarence and Henry VI.
FICTION: Ne mooned about whispering to himsell things like ‘I am a villain' and ‘dogs bark at me as l halt them.‘ FACT: Innocent until proven guilty.
ll the play's lopsided plllorying rubs you up the wrong way. the Richard III Society devotes its energies to restoring the name ol this most maligned oi kings and it can be contacted on O71 351 3391 (evenings).
The List 22 February — 7 March 19919