King Lear@ The Opera House, Manchester

5. King Lear_Michael Pennington c Marc Brenner-1802It’s been said that by the time an actor is old enough to play King Lear he no longer has the stamina to do it.

At 72, Michael Pennington is old enough to play one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles, but the sheer energy of his performance at the Opera House this week gives no indication that this veteran of stage and screen lacks any of the stamina.

Pennington is quite simply sensational in this production delivering a  masterfully poignant, comic and touching performance in two and a half hours of brilliance, and still manages to practically skip on and off the stage for the curtain calls at the end.

Pennington dominates the stage in every scene he appears in, standing out in a competent cast which deliver a gripping version of the bleak tragedy.

King Lear tells the story of an ageing king who plans to divide his kingdom between his three daughters in return for declarations of love and devotion. When his favourite Cordelia refuses to submit to his demands she’s banished, leaving sisters Goneril and Regan to take the spoils.

As a bloody power struggle between the two sisters ensues, Lear sinks further into the “madness of age”. Into his tragic tale is woven the story of the loyal Gloucester and his two sons – Edgar and Edmond, whose machinations contribute to the tragic conclusions.

One of the weak points for me was Edmund, who should be the charismatic Machiavellian, but was somewhat underwhelming. I couldn’t decide whether this was down to Scott Karim’s performance or an interpretation of the character which, for me, was a little off kilter.

But there is plenty to keep the audience hooked and the strong emphasis on Lear’s dementia provides some memorable and touching scenes, particularly in the interplay between Lear and Pip Donaghy’s Gloucester.

A fitting celebration of 400 years of the bard’s work.

Runs till Saturday June 4.

Dave Toomer


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