18 March 2012


And take upon ’s the mystery of things …
KING LEAR, Act V, sc. iii

Monday the 19th March is a red-letter day, the first day of the second exploratory workshop I am doing with Paul Hunter on King Lear, and the latest phase in a project conceived during the short West End run of The Fantasticks in which we formed a successful comic partnership. 

The workshop is so open ended, based as it is on our relationship in the famous musical, and the bald fact that three years before I had been cheated out of playing King Lear in New Zealand by the stroke I suffered after the second day of rehearsal. 

In preparation for the week ahead, and as a possible prelude to the show, I have composed a sonnet encapsulating my dual journey with Lear and the peripeteiac nature of the King’s story and my own.

‘Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester’ 
It seemed that in my seer and yellow years
A Christmas gift would add me to the roster
The lineage: four hundred years of Lears!
That winter, hoped to get the part off pat 
Interpreted, there at my kitchen table
‘Come, come, I am a king; masters know you that’
In spring and summer, just as I was able
My leitmotif was Lear whatever part 
Slipped in and jostled me for my devotion 
The foolish king was closest to my heart
Until my heart, the fool, denied me motion.
The gilded butterflies are in, and I am out
No cataracts and hurricanoes spout.

Self-portrait as Lear. 
Charcoal on paper

Meanwhile, work on the book Kathleen and I are writing about West Hampstead’s astonishingly rich history continues apace. We discovered the other day, in the British Library archives, a rare, very early Victorian drawing of a grand West Hampstead mansion set in idyllic parkland. The caption reads: ‘House sketched at Westend near Kilburn, for the top of a bill for letting it, by Mr Oberson. G. Scharf 1839.’

Image courtesy of British Library

The artist is George Scharf senior who, a year before, sketched William Macready and his Fool Priscilla Horton in King Lear at Covent Garden, the first time Shakespeare’s unaltered original had been performed in London since it was played by Shakespeare’s company and the first reappearance of the Fool in 150 years.

Depictions of King Lear are something of a West Hampstead tradition. It was, after all, in Georgian West End, with David Garrick’s Lear within recent living memory, that the first illustrated folio of Shakespeare, was born. Just a few streets up from the site of its birth, I have been working on my own contribution to that tradition, and share with you here a detail or two from my painting of Lear and the Fool in the Storm.


  1. Looking forward to updates about the workshop and book,- the paintings with this post are so atmospheric.

  2. Thank you for your persistence of vision.