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Shakespeare & Beyond

Excerpt: 'Year of the Mad King' by Antony Sher

Antony Sher
Antony Sher

What’s it like to play the role of Lear onstage? In this excerpt from Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries (published Apr 3), actor Antony Sher gives us a window into the rehearsal process for the Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear in 2016. (The sketches included with this excerpt are also done by Sher.) Sher will star as Lear in New York later this month as the RSC production, directed by Gregory Doran, plays at BAM Apr 7-29.

Antony Sher as Lear

Self as Lear

Monday 27 June 2016

Week One of rehearsals proper (we have seven weeks in all), with the full company.

Greg [Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and director of the production of King Lear] stands up to make his opening speech. He begins with a head-on confrontation: ‘Charles Lamb advised people to keep re-reading King Lear and avoid its staged travesties. Well, I’m here to tell you that the point of these rehearsals will be – precisely – to avoid staging any kind of travesty!’

Then he says, ‘Lear is elemental. If Hamlet is cold, if Othello is heat, if Macbeth is darkness, then Lear is STORM.’ He looks round the group. ‘Is Lear a story that ultimately makes moral sense? Is it a story of learning and redemption? Or is it something else altogether? Because the play ends not with order or disorder, but with a strange, profound unease.’

He goes on: ‘Samuel Beckett is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Lear. When Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in 1948, it was in a century which had already witnessed two world wars, the dropping of two atomic bombs, and a Holocaust of unimaginable cruelty and suffering. Beckett could no longer see the world as some kind of moral universe, with some kind of guiding principle behind it. It was bleak and absurd. The same was true for Shakespeare. The Gunpowder Plot had shown Catholics trying to murder the Protestant king, his family, and all of Parliament, so where was the moral universe? And the plague. If the plague could kill thousands and thousands of people – remember that the playhouses had to close in 1605, the year before Lear – where again was there any kind of moral universe?’


Very interesting comments -food for thought. A question – What does BAM stand for? Thank you.

Helen Cassidy — April 3, 2018

BAM stands for Brooklyn Academy of Music. You can learn more about it here:

Esther French — April 3, 2018