Former Hampstead MP Glenda Jackson to play King Lear

Former MP and celebrated actress Glenda Jackson will make her return to the stage playing King Lear

Former MP and celebrated actress Glenda Jackson will make her return to the stage playing King Lear at the Old Vic - Credit: Archant

Former Hampstead and Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson is set to return to the stage playing King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles, best known for his descent into madness ‘on the heath’.

The Oscar-winning actress will tread the boards for the first time in decades at the Old Vic this October, in a piece of gender-blind casting that critics and fans alike will be eagerly anticipating.

Ms Jackson stepped away from her acting work in 1990 to enter politics stage left, and was elected Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate in 1992.

She served five terms in Westminster, throughout the Blair and Brown years and into Cameron’s first Parliament, with boundary changes seeing her seat become Hampstead and Kilburn in 2010.

She left politics in 2015, having decided not to contest the seat again, and returned to acting last year, playing a 104-year-old character in a radio four adaptation of Emile Zola’s novels entitled, Blood, Sex and Money.

Historically, many of the Bard’s female characters were played by men, because acting wasn’t considered a respectable female profession, but there has been a recent trend for casting actresses in male parts.

In an interview with the Observer last year, 79-year old Ms Jackson bemoaned the lack of great roles for women.

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She said: “The problem of a lack of equal opportunities is compounded by the bias towards male parts in classical drama.

“Let’s look at Shakespeare. If you’re lucky and you’re talented as a man, you can go through every single male development stage. You can go all the way from … Hamlet to Lear. There’s a part along that path that matches the human development. There is no equivalent for women.

“There may be in the Greek plays, but I don’t think to the same degree. There are major roles for women in Greek drama, but they tend always to be tragic and they’re always losers.”

King Lear is one of the Bard’s four so-called “great tragedies” and tells a timeless tale family, power and insanity, with its most famous scene depicting the ageing king wandering about ‘the heath’ in a state of madness.

Birkenhead-born Ms Jackson trained at RADA and spent four years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s, before winning Oscars in the 1970s for Women in Love and A Touch of Class.

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