Royal Lyceum Theatre
4 stars ****
THE TAIWANESE actor and director Wu Hsing-Kuo makes no secret of the fact that his solo version of King Lear – supported by a group of nine musicians, but otherwise performed entirely by himself – is an intensely personal project. First conceived eleven years ago, after a series of crises almost destroyed Wu’s Contemporary Legend company, this two-hour version of Shakespeare’s most mysterious tragedy uses the story of Lear – rejected in old age, and driven into madness and destitution – as a way of exploring profound feelings of rage and exclusion, and the endless quest for a true sense of self.
Despite the show’s decade-long history, there are times when Wu’s Lear still seems like a raw cry of rage, so absorbed in its own pain that it cannot quite make the case for presenting Lear as a solo show. What it offers, though, is a dazzling masterclass in the power of Wu’s Peking Opera tradition to evolve towards new stories and structures, as it aims for a future which, Wu argues, must combine tradition with modernity. And at its best, this is a show so ravishingly beautiful that it takes the breath away; not least in the elegiac final scene, set in a glowing red world of Buddhist prayer, where Lear – or Wu – returns as a spirit to sing the whole song of his exile from happiness, before the darkness finally claims him.
Until 15 August