One of the few of the radical shake-ups of the Royal Shakespeare Company that didn't raise any eyebrows when it was announced was the creation of an RSC Academy to give young actors more of a grounding in speaking and acting in Shakespeare productions than they would have received at drama school.
The first public test of its effectiveness will come with its inaugural production of one of Shakespeare's most challenging plays, King Lear.
This will be staged at the Young Vic from October 23 to November 9, using the young actors of the Academy program. Lear is, of course, primarily associated with old age because of the title role of the senile King who divides his realm between two of his three daughters with disastrous results.
However, the rest of the cast is meant to be relatively young, so the real challenge of "playing old" lies with the lead actor. The role of the King has traditionally been one that actors well advanced in years — and experience, as it is a notoriously long, difficult and exhausting part to play — have reserved until they feel ready for it. Lord Olivier played it in a television version when old and frail himself, and it was one of the last stage roles that Sir Nigel Hawthorne was seen in. Sir John (at that point simply Mr.) Gielgud rather bucked the trend by playing it when in his twenties, but then he was the youngest Hamlet of his day as well, and wanted to show his versatility at playing both ends of the age spectrum.
Fuller details of casting will be announced later, but booking opens at the Young Vic on June 17, and it will be advisable to book early.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow