King Lear (1986): National Theatre, Olivier Theatre

PrKing Lear (

Location: Olivier Theatre
Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: Suzanne Bertish (Regan); Michael Bryant (Gloucester); Miranda Foster (Cordelia); Douglas Hodge (Edmund); Anthony Hopkins (King Lear); Philip Locke (Kent); Anna Massey (Goneril); Bill Nighy (Edgar); Roshan Seth (Fool).

This production ran from 11 December 1986 - 11 November 1987.

"Controversial or no, Roshan Seth was not a sudden choice. Back in 1982, when Seth played Victor Mehta in David Hare's A Map of the World in Sydney, Hare told Seth that he would like to do Lear next. 'I love it', said the British playwright-director, 'and I would like you to play the Fool.' Early last year Seth was in London shooting for a film Little Dorrit when he heard Hare was planning to do Lear at the Olivier. 'I thought oy oy, difficult situation now. Having promised the Fool to me all those years ago, there was no reason why he should remember, no reason why I should push him into a corner. It's not nice. Particularly with a friend. Let him decide. He knows I'm here.' At the BAFTA Awards ceremony, Roshan Seth ran into Anthony Hopkins who had already been cast as Lear. Seth explained his problem to Hopkins who apparently went straight home and rang Hare suggesting Seth play the Fool. 'That not only jogged Hare's memory but he thought oh well yes, great, Hopkins approves as well. Though there was no formal clause in his contract about cast approval I think Hare was making certain Hopkins approved of the people as they were cast,' speculates Seth."  ~ Dhiren Bhagat, "Just a fool, not a naukar", Sunday Observer, 1 March 1987

"Productions of King Lear tend to fall into two groups: the timeless-mythic and the rigorously specific. Surprisingly, in view of his keen social instincts as a dramatist, David Hare's new version at the Olivier is one of the former. Against a background of Hayden Griffin's chaste sheets unfurling like windbellied sails, it could be happening in any place at almost any time. The result is a production that lays the play out clearly before us, that boasts a fine Lear from [Anthony] Hopkins and one or two vintage supporting performances [Michael Bryant and Philip Locke] but that lacks the tang and spice of a strong directorial vision....Roshan Seth is a fine actor but I cannot make out what his Fool is about: he seems neither a professional clown nor (like Antony Sher) Lear's alter ego and is often reduced to barking out his rebukes from upstage. What I miss is any hint of umbilical closeness between him and his master."  ~ Michael Billington, "Majesty in the kingdom of limbo", Guardian, 13 December 1986

"On a bare stage against the huge tarpaulin of Hayden Griffin's set, the audience needs a keen imagination to conjure up the grandeur of palaces or the bleakness of a blasted heath. Carnage is, however, well symbolised by hanging bodies in the closing scene...Roshan Seth is so scalding and unpleasant as the Fool it is hard to understand why this ear wouldn't have clipped him about the ears for his impertinence."  ~ Milton Shulman, "A king among Lears", Evening Standard, 12 December 1986

"I could have wished for a better partnership than he was with Roshan Seth as the Fool, an unsmiling, hectoring companion who spits out advice with head-on directness instead of with the obliqueness of a licensed clown."  ~ Irving Wardle, "Passionate grounds for appeal", The Times, 13 December 1986

"The Fool (Roshan Seth) will take some people by surprise. He has none of the obliqueness we are accustomed to seeing in the role. Nor indeed does he bear any resemblance to Antony Sher's tricksy, vaudeville personality which we saw at the RSC a few seasons ago. Here the director and actor have focused on the principal moral function of the Fool and made him a severe admonitory voice. Given the rest of the production it is a characteristic direct interpretation and carries its own power."  ~ Christopher Edwards, "Strength and simplicity", Spectator, 18 December 1986

"Roshan Seth's jester seems to be in the wrong job, hectoring instead of teasing his master, and with no note of music in him. He does, though, trigger Hopkins's finest moment: The king, conscience-stricken as well as crazy, becomes the Fool's protector during the storm and is off on his spiritual journey."  ~ Robert Cushman, "Hopkins Impressive as Mad Lear", International Herald Tribune Review, 17 December 1986

"Some mysterious sea change has worked its magic on the National Theatre's King Lear since I last saw it in December. It was then a fluent, brave but oddly passionate-less piece of work, driven by a somewhat spartan intellect. Some of the supporting roles were wretchedly played and Anthony Hopkins' Lear was a tense roarer who prowled through the play with his eyes hooded, remote and withdrawn....Three months later, he is easily the best Lear I have seen, a stubborn, block-headed old warlord, baying with grief like some chained mastiff...[Roshan] Seth has altered his performance completely since I last saw the production. Then he shouted impartialy, and the two men meant nothing to each other. Now, Seth is an audacious gadfly, with a cool, mocking voice, and his quiet severity is the kindest, most intimate thing Lear knows. His entrance ignites a powder keg quality in Hopkins' acting, a fervency which was missing before."  ~ Andrew Rissik, "Reaching the summit", Independent, 23 March 1987

"The most eccentric piece of David Hare's casting is the Fool of Roshan Seth, who delivers his gags in a tone of irritable Anglo-Indian pedantry that does nothing at all to explain the relationship between him and Lear - a relationship essentiall to the emotional continuity of the play because (as everyone remarks) it is analagous to that between Lear and Cordelia."  ~ Stephen Wall, "An economy of effects", Times Literary Supplement, 26 December 1986

"Roshan Seth, the gifted Indian actor who starred in Mr. Hare's A Map of the World [National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, 1983] is a curiously neutral Fool, so determined to avoid previous approaches to the part that he makes no impression whatsoever."  ~ Matt Wolf, "London's Lear Storms After Greatness", Wall Street Journal, 19 December 1986

"David Hare's production labours under three disadvantages....Secondly, a Fool (Roshan Seth) who, in his first scene, harangues Lear like an Old Testament prophet, and an Edgar (Bill Nighy) who in his passages of feigned madness appears to be suffering from St Vitus's dance, have clearly been misdirected."  ~ Francis King, "Descent into evil", Sunday Telegraph, 14 December 1986

Pe People involved in this production