As he prepares to direct King Lear for the second time, Michael Hurst tells Elisabeth Easther that the Bard had him hooked from the moment he saw the “passion and blood at close quarters”.
“Shakespeare is the best thing in the world for actors, and this play is so full of genius. People go to see King Lear for the psychology, to watch Lear clamp down like a stubborn old bugger, to see him destroy his world and almost everyone in it, to go mad. Cordelia has to be young and true and Lear – well, I think we have to not like him, to see his folly, before any redemption can work.”
Michael Hurst is a fool for Shakespeare. He’s had more roles in Elizabethan plays than you could shake a broadsword at and is directing King Lear for Wellington’s Circa Theatre as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations. This is the fourth production of the play that Hurst has been associated with – directing it twice and playing the Fool twice too – but it’s the first time he has worked with a Lear who’s the right age: Ray Henwood is nearly 80 and Ken Blackburn, who is playing Gloucester, is over 80. “This brings the age theme into focus very strongly,” Hurst says. “What do you do with your parents, your crazy, ageing, unreasonable parents? Throw them out into a storm?”
Hurst’s love of Shakespeare was born in 1972. He was a fourth-former at Papanui High on a school trip to the Court Theatre. “Our teacher, Alan Bunn, was playing a small role in Lear, Burgundy or France, and he took our whole class to see it. It was like being in someone’s living room with Lear raging at the storm, a metre away from me, passion and blood at close quarters. I was 14 and I couldn’t believe it. It was completely overpowering and I never looked back.”
Extract from an article written by Elisabeth Easther for The Listener.