Five things you may or may not know about Glenda Jackson?
- Born in Birkenhead, she served two years on the beauty counter in Boots before getting in to RADA.
- A staunch Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn for 23 years, but her only son Dan Hodges writes a column in the Mail on Sunday
- At the height of her stardom in John Schlesinger’s 1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday, when she takes her shirt off, Peter Finch says ‘here come those tired old tits again’. Poor Glenda, she was only 35
- Two Oscars, Two Emmys, and a CBE, largely for playing royal personages such as Queen Elizabeth I, once opposite an equally watchable equally left-wing Vanessa Redgrave as Mary.
- She was, very briefly, a Transport minister in the first Blair government and advocated privatising the Tube.
I suppose what I’m driving at is that having swerved from the stage into a political career, my concern was how easily could she take up acting again? The astonishing thing about King Lear is that the answer is seamlessly: with power, and clarity, and complete command of the stage. Given how much acting has changed since 1980, this is astonishing and she deserves to be seen.
In her first appearance she’s supremely elegant, someone’s given her hair a modish cut and colour and walked her round Jaeger to select classy separates, although it’s debatable whether a red bias cut cardigan adequately stands in for the armour and mantle of King Lear.
Fashion plays a ludicrous part in Deborah Warner’s over-stylised production with Celia Imrie in a purple silk-lined swagger coat, an atrociously miscast Jane Horrocks in Littlewoods’ catalogue biker-chick leathers and jacked up on stratospheric fuck-me wedges to make her pass for Imrie’s sibling. Once Morfydd Clark’s dowdy Cordelia stoically accepts being deprived of her legacy, they look – and act – even more like Cinderella’s sisters.
Jackson’s bravura aside, you turn to the men for verisimilitude and a better reading of the poetry and drama in Lear – William Chubb beautifully understated as ever as Albany, Danny Webb a cruel and calculating Cornwall and Karl Johnson excellent as Gloucester, not least in his edge-of-the-cliff scene with Harry Melling’s emphatic and slightly wicked Edgar. I only recently learned Melling is a scion of the Troughton acting dynasty, his uncle David really should get a crack at Lear soon. As I suggested in 2009.
The atmospherics and projected torrents of the storm are glorious: elsewhere you could question whether this modernised and minimal production adequately tells the story to those who don’t already know it. There are more imponderables – why Sargon Yelda’s Kent must have such an impenetrable accent, why Simon Manyonda’s Edmund skips during the Bastard scene or moons the audience, and whether Joanne Howarth as the senior female in the ensemble would be Glenda’s understudy should there be a ‘Glenn Close’ situation.
But with Glenda’s undoubted vigour, it seems unlikely. She is quite, quite remarkable.