Four centuries after Shakespeare wrote it, the eye-gouging scene in King Lear remains one of the most horrifying moments you’ll ever see on a stage. How many people over all those years have been shocked and repulsed as a loyal old man is tied down and blinded. How many, like me, have braced themselves for it from the moment the first actors have come on stage. Going to the theatre is something you approach with the expectation of enjoyment but as I arrived at the Almeida on Monday I was dreading this, and several other aspects of the play.
It didn’t disappoint.
The set was a bare brick wall. The actors wore dun, medieval-style clothing. A howling wind was matched by the chill of soured relationships in a dysfunctional court. And Jonathan Pryce did a brilliant portrayal of an aged autocrat descending into madness.
The awful scene came and went, to be followed by more senseless terror. I thought of other random acts of cruelty happening now, like Malala being shot in Afghanistan. How amazing that this great play is as powerful and relevant as it was when it first appeared.