SINEAD’S THE WOMAN OF KENT IN KING LEAR
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.