“That’s what great artists do: They challenge themselves.”
So said stage director Deborah Warner, when asked in an interview for the New York Times, why Glenda Jackson wanted to take on the title role in King Lear. At age 80, Ms. Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner (“Women in Love” and “A Touch of Class”), is coming back to the stage after 25 years to play the Shakespearean king.
Retirement to some is a goal in itself. It’s a time for relaxing, leisure, and to enjoy life without the demands of a schedule. On the other end of the spectrum we hear about “getting out of one’s comfort zone” and “having the opportunity to try something new.”
It should be obvious on which team Ms. Jackson is playing.
If you’ve ever thought “I wish I could still…” or “I miss doing…” or “I wonder if it’s too late to…”, then read on.
After a distinguished thirty-three year career on the stage and screen, Ms. Jackson went into politics, being elected to Parliament in 1992 and serving five terms. So when Matthew Warchus took over as Artistic Director at The Old Vic, he asked to meet with Ms. Jackson to see if he could lure her back to the stage. To his surprise, she suggested that she play King Lear. Mr. Warchus agreed and Ms. Jackson set out to rise to this monumental challenge for which she would need to overcome many obstacles:
- Degree of Difficulty: This play isn’t called “Mount Lear” for no reason. It is daunting and complex, an arduous role to play (this production runs three and a half hours). For most, if they get to do the part, it’s their crowning achievement.
- Expectations: A return to the stage this dramatic leads to much speculation. A two-time Oscar winner with nothing to prove making her comeback in an historic theatre, means that a lot of people are waiting to see what happens. Unfortunately, some are hoping for a dramatic failure.
- Remember me?: Could you do your job after being away from it for twenty-five years? Would you be any good at it? From all accounts Ms. Jackson hit the ground running and never stopped.
- High Stakes: Ms. Jackson is the first British woman to play Lear in this century in a major production. It comes at a time when there is a struggle to find meaningful roles for women – especially older women.
- Age: I know, “it’s just a number.” But, current theatre wisdom holds that actors who are the right age to play Lear lack the stamina to perform it. At 80, Ms. Jackson is older than all but one of Britain’s last ten King Lears in major productions.
How did Ms. Jackson fare?
She crushed it. Read the review.
Artwork by Lisa Curran
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