The (Adrian) Noble Approach to Shakespeare — Now in California

Special Features   The (Adrian) Noble Approach to Shakespeare — Now in California
The former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company dons sunglasses to direct King Lear and The Madness of George III at The Old Globe in sunny San Diego.
Adrian Noble
Adrian Noble


"When I emerge from directing Shakespeare, I feel [I'm] a richer human being," Adrian Noble says. "The exposure to such a multi-perspective view of humanity is by definition enriching."

Noble knows whereof he speaks. From 1990 to 2003 he was artistic director of England's Royal Shakespeare Company. This summer he's in San Diego as the artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre's Shakespeare Festival, which opens the company's 75th-anniversary celebration. Noble — who has received 120 Olivier Award nominations — has chosen to direct King Lear and to team it with Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III, which he is also helming.

Directing Shakespeare, Noble says, "is like a well that is continuously refilling itself. I am doing Lear for the third time, and it's like coming to the play afresh. There's so much to draw from, so much to discover. It's a huge challenge — Shakespeare is the hardest taskmaster. It hones your skills. You have to get better as a director to direct Shakespeare."

The pairing of the two plays seemed natural, Noble says, for obvious reasons — both deal with kings who go mad, and Lear is quoted often in the Bennett play, which concerns a real British king and his deterioration into madness after the Revolutionary War. "Part of George's fall into madness was his grief at losing the American colonies," Noble says. So the director decided to connect the two plays even further, to start Lear "in the fourth quarter of the 18th century," around the time of the American Revolution.

He says he also thought, "'Why don't we end up with Lear in the 20th century?' I thought that time in Lear is elastic. We find with Lear that a contemporary landscape emerges as the play progresses."

Lear, he says, "needs to start in a formal, very patrician court, in which everybody knows their place and nobody steps out of line. Catastrophe follows — the division of the kingdom. Very quickly, the formality of the court disintegrates, the kingdom falls apart. Because it's a great poetic drama, the cosmos collapses into violent storms, extraordinary tempests."

To have any chance of success with the play, he says, "You have to allow the audience to witness that disintegration. So I thought I'd take for my departure the moment in British history when the biggest rupture happens — the loss of the American colonies, which were regarded by many people in Britain as part of one nation. And then as civilization disintegrates it seemed to naturally fall into the 20th century, for me the period just before the Second World War. One of the terrible things that characterized the 20th century was the barbarism between man and man."

Robert Foxworth, whose Broadway credits include August: Osage County and Twelve Angry Men, is Lear and British actor Miles Anderson is King George. The festival also includes The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Ron Daniels.

One reason for choosing Lear, Noble says, "is that you're running a theatre company. Lear offers 15 or 16 wonderful parts. You have to think about that in terms of attracting the quality of actor you want to attract."

He says he is excited to be working with American actors. "I've found the ability in American actors to combine the best of the Stanislavski-based Method approach to acting with the discipline that a Shakespearean approach to a character would require. It's a fascinating marriage of two traditions."

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