To see the great Glenda Jackson play “King Lear” at the age of 82 would be an extraordinary gift, actually to see her play anything would be amazing.
“King Lear” has long been the crowning performance for actors who know how to dominate a stage. As a longstanding member of Parliament, Jackson has unique insight into authority.
It has been a bitter season. Britain lies divided, gripped by an identity crisis, its future uncertain. Sectarian violence flares. Terrorism and freak weather. There are resurgences of deadly disease, famine, portents of worse to come. Life on this planet suddenly seems too fragile to be borne.
It is the year 1606. William Shakespeare turns 42, an old man at a time when life expectancy runs to the mid-40s. His productive days seem behind him; he writes less and less. He has every incentive to retire comfortably in the country. Instead, he produces three of his major works in the span of a year: “Macbeth,” “Antony and Cleopatra” and the bleakest, greatest play in the language, “King Lear,” his colossus, a play that refracts every tension of its time — the return of the plague to London, Guy Fawkes and the plot to blow up Parliament. It is a work that seems calculated to flatter and admonish — to throw support behind King James’s effort to unify Britain but to also caution about the corruption of power.
Four hundred years later in an eerily similar season, another artist is completing a hat trick of her own. After 23 years away, Glenda Jackson, 82, the two-time Oscar winner who spent the last two decades as a member of Parliament, returned to acting. In 2016 she played King Lear at the Old Vic theater in London, won a Tony Award for her turn in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” last year and, this spring, she brings Lear to Broadway in a new production opening in April. The play has never felt more vibrantly responsive to the moment, to a crisis in global leadership —
No, I can hear Jackson now, interrupting me. No. I think it would be remarkably arrogant to try to make Shakespeare a commentary. It has its own life.
Read more of Paul Sehgal for the New York Times.
Amazing images by Jacob Krupnick
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