Sir Ian McKellen performs a Lear established as a forgetful, feeble, foul-tempered and, new for the twenty-first century, incestuous militarised king. Where other directors have failed, Trevor Nunn excels by adding depth to other key characters such as Goneril and Regan. They are not simply fairytale wicked sisters, but sexualised women desperate to be freed from their father’s overpowering influence as they vie for Edmund’s seductive Machiavellian charm.
Regan, in particular, is a character who parallels, in her own disturbing way, her father’s mental breakdown but becomes stronger rather than weaker. At the start of the play, Nunn shows Regan as diffident and even fearful of Lear as she struggles to find words to praise him. She is prompted by her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, to top her elder sister’s grandiose profession of love to their father in order to receive a richer part of the kingdom represented by an A3 sized map (shown below, tellingly with Lear’s crown placed on top).
What is particularly striking is that Regan’s low self esteem or fragility is in complete contrast to Goneril’s starched authority and Cordelia’s rebellious youth. The three daughters are sufficiently different to form a hierarchy of incestuous abuse from which Lear anticipates supplanting Regan, as his current fancy, with Cordelia ‘now our joy’ (I.i, line 82) . Following Sir Ian Holm’s Lear, McKellen also kisses Regan but adds -Continue Reading>