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SINEAD CUSACK will join Ian McKellen in a pro­duc­tion of King Lear, play­ing his loyal courtier Kent — as an an­gela Merkel- es­que, straight-talk­ing wo­man.

Its direc­tor Jonathan Munby lamented that ‘there aren’t enough fe­male roles in the clas­si­cal reper­toire’ and felt there was no rea­son the role of the Earl of Kent in shake­speare’s great tragedy had to be played by a man.

The char­ac­ter of Kent — de­voted but not ob­se­quious; not afraid of speak­ing his mind — re­minded him of the plain­speak­ing Paulina in The Win­ter’s Tale. Both char­ac­ters risk the wrath of their mon­archs by dar­ing to tell them they are wrong about a close rel­a­tive.

‘Cer­tainly, early in the play, when Kent tells Lear he’s be­ing un­fair to Cordelia, it reads a bit like Paulina,’ Munby said.

The mod­ern- dress pro­duc­tion is at the Min­erva Theatre in the Chich­ester fes­ti­val Theatre from septem­ber 22. ‘It struck me that Kent could be a high­rank­ing fe­male politi­cian, like an­gela Merkel — or Mo Mowlam,’ he mused.

Later, when Kent is ban­ished, he puts on a dis­guise. Munby will have Cusack (right) pose as a man — in this case a squad­die — to in­fil­trate Lear’s court. Lear asks who the dis­guised Kent is, and the courtier says: ‘a man, sir.’

‘That would be fan­tas­ti­cally ironic in this con­text!’ Munby told me from Cape Town. (he’s di­rect­ing a re­vival of Todd Mat­shiki-

za’s jazz mu­si­cal King Kong, about Ezekiel Dlamini, the Fifties box­ing champ who stabbed his girl­friend to death. Pro­ducer Eric Abra­ham is likely to bring the fu­gard Theatre pro­duc­tion to Lon­don next year.) Munby ap­proached Cusack, with whom he’s been friends since their Royal Shake­speare Com­pany days. She jumped at the chance. Munby was clear that in his pro­duc­tion, Kent would be fe­male — not sim­ply an ac­tress play­ing a man. He told me he has made it a

con­tem­po­rary piece be­cause it ‘ab­so­lutely mir­rors the times we’re liv­ing in’.

‘Think about the di­vi­sion of a king­dom,’ he ar­gued. ‘We’re liv­ing through that as we’re ne­go­ti­at­ing Brexit.’

Lear’s daugh­ters Goneril, Re­gan and Cordelia will be played by Dervla Kir­wan, Kirsty Bushell and Ta­mara Lawrance. Danny Webb is Glouces­ter, while Phil Daniels takes on the Fool — with Jonathan Bai­ley and Damien Molony as broth­ers- at- war Edgar and Ed­mund.

Pa­trick Robin­son, the clas­si­cally trained ac­tor and Strictly semi-fi­nal­ist, will play Corn­wall, with Do­minic Mafham as Al­bany. Caleb Roberts will play the King of France.

Munby and Chich­ester’s artis­tic direc­tor Daniel Evans want to cap­ture the play on film. ‘I’d love to do a live broad­cast, to show in cin­e­mas,’ he said. Or fail­ing that, shoot it for video or on­line.

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