IT seems astonishing that it’s 25 years since Glenda Jackson left acting behind and marched into Parliament as an MP.
But happily she has been persuaded to tread the boards once more - and in perhaps one of the greatest roles ever written.
She stars as King Lear in Deborah Warner’s production which opened this week at the Old Vic. And without putting too finer point on it, it is a triumph.
It is played out in modern dress on a practically bare stage save for a few chairs, some stud walls which the crew move around and black tarpaulin for the storm scenes.
Lear arrives to ask his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, which of them loves him most as he seeks to carve up his Kingdom. While Goneril and Regan fawn over him, Cordelia is more honest in her words - and as Lear doesn’t like what he hears he banishes her and his servant Kent when Kent tries to stand up for her.
Goneril and Regan and their husbands then turn on their father and he begins a descent into madness, before they, in their greed, turn on each other.
Meanwhile Edmund, bastard son of Gloucester seeks revenge for his situation on his half brother Edmund with disastrous results.
The tragedy for Lear is that he only sees the truth right at the end when a madness has taken hold and his life is ebbing away.
It is a very wordy play and long, and Warner has not taken out the marker pen on the text - which results in a production of three and three quarter hours. It is a stretch but it is such an absorbing and brilliantly staged production that it’s not noticeable.
Glenda Jackson is superb as Lear and despite her four score years is powerful of voice, full of energy and spirit, striding about and commanding the stage in what is really a masterclass for any aspiring actor. Her Lear is ferocious, roars like a lion, is determined, vain and vulnerable.
She is well supported by her colleagues though, with stand out performances from Jane Horrocks as Regan, Celia Imrie as Goneril, Karl Johnson as Gloucester, Rhys Ifans as the Fool and Simon Manyonda as Edmund.
This is a production not to miss.
King Lear is on at the Old Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until December 3. Visit www.oldvictheatre.com or call the box office on 0844 871 7628 for full listings.