If madness is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results, then we are surely all mad. Not only is the maxim probably not an Einstein quote as conventional wisdom asserts (mistakenly), but it has become so overused our collective repetition of it that it makes madness a banal kookiness rather than an insidious, creeping decay. King Lear’s madness is not borne out as successive mistakes, but amplified by the ramifications from one central mistake. It is a powerful madness, first creeping about the fringes of an old mind and later gushing in to overwhelm previously sharp faculties.
Joseph Marcell is exhaustingly good as Lear. His voice is suitably bombastic, filling the beautiful void at the heart of the Bodleian – he is a king, and kings do not go quietly into the night. The voice builds up with rage and madness what his stature and subtle mannerisms brought down to kindly elderliness and playful retirement. Bill Nash was great as the stalwart Kent, and the daughters were suitably, blood-boilingly scheming – though I preferred Bethan Cullinane as the Fool rather than Cordelia.
The Globe on Tour requires a lot from it’s casts, usually fewer than 10 actors covering at least 2 parts each requires accents, hats and costume changes. The on-stage execution of these was great, and in the case of Alex Mugnaioni transforming from Duke to naked madman in amazingly quick time, fantastic. But overall it has been done better in other years – when some people were in disguise as their main character, by wearing a hat and putting on an accent, and others are supposed to be entirely different characters, by wearing a hat and putting on an accent, it can take a few seconds to work out who’s who. Similarly to previous years, the cast also brought some impressive musical talents to break up the drama, but it has to be better recognised that there are certain times when people want to wallow in a tragedy, not watch a jig, however well choreographed and played.
Having said that, this remains one of Oxford’s true theatrical highlights, and if you’re unable to make this year’s performance, mark the week down for next year – no doubt it’ll be even better.