[Review] William Shakespeare's 'King Lear'. A rehearsed reading

Now at the age of 'fourscore and upward' (85!), and at the pinnacle of his career, veteran actor Joss Ackland was finally ready to take on the Everest of Shakespearean roles in an unprecedented play reading of King Lear.

Directed by world leading director Jonathan Miller and joined by an all-star cast, Joss was the first Lear to tread the boards at London’s newest theatre, the St James Theatre, before returning to his theatrical roots at the The Old Vic over 60 years after joining The Old Vic Company.
[Image courtesy of Patric Baldwin]
Ackland had pulled together an incredible company of acting friends both old and new, his aim to “bring together three generations of actors”. The cast included Joss Ackland, Tony Britton, Greta Scacchi, Tony Robinson, Michael York, John Nettles (playing Cornwall), Barrie Rutter, Honeysuckle Weeks (playing Cordelia), Shaun Dooley, Lee Ingleby, Jack Tarlton, Jos Vantyler, Vernon Dobtcheff and Robert Young.

This much anticipated gathering was presenting the reading in support of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the disease that took Joss’s much loved wife Rosemary.

Shakespeare’s cruelest, and most demanding play, King Lear tells the story of an old man desperately trying to hold both his family and kingdom together. Loyalties and loves are divided as Lear is forced to face the realities of age and the passage of time.

"It is the irony of the play that by the time you are old enough to play Lear you are too old to play Lear," Ackland says. But not only does Joss feel he has the experience of a full life to bring to the role – a life that has not been without it’s own tragedy – he has the strength and stature too. "Lear has to be like a felled oak not a sapling."

The formidable play and cast could be seen and heard from the 22nd to the 29th September 2013, at The Old Vic and St James Theatre.

Despite the scale and grandeur of the event, the death of Cordelia stilled the nine hundred plus audience to utter silence. A testament to the quality and superb acting of this distinguished company.

More about Honeysuckle Weeks can be found here.

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