Drawing: Glenda Jackson as King Lear


“Glenda Jackson’s performance will be talked about for years,” wrote Dominic Cavendish in his Telegraph review of Deborah Warner’s star-studded modern-dress production of KING LEAR, which has just completed it’s short run at London’s Old Vic. Twenty-five years after her last stage performance as Christine in Eugene O’Neill’s MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA at the Glasgow Citizens, the 80 year-old, two-time Oscar winner made a ‘triumphant return to the stage’ with a “ferocious, unflinching performance that transcends gender and puts her amongst the best Lears,” proclaimed the Guardian’s Michael Billington.

In 1992 she became the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, winning four successive elections before retiring at the last election. It was suggested by more than one critic that her experience of political life and the injustices in the world enriched her understanding Lear. “Where does all her energy come from? Or that voice, which can blast out with a force to induce shockwaves? She is so pale, so spectre-thin with an androgynous crop of lankish hair… her neck pushes forward in vein-accentuating confrontation” continued the Guardian critic. Glenda was a little more subdued, thank goodness, at the stage door when she arrived for a Saturday matinee a couple of weeks ago and signed my drawing.

Drawing: Glenda Jackson in Marat/Sade

Glenda Jackson

The Persecution and Assasination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (whew) is a 1963 play by German writer Peter Weiss. I won’t give you the German version. Thankfully, it’s usually shortened to Marat/Sade.

Set in the historical French Charenton Asylum, it is a ‘play within a play’, where the actors are inmates. The play within the play is directed by the Marquis de Sade (the man after whom sadism is named) culminating in the assasination of Jean-Paul Marat.

The 1964 production was staged at London’s Aldwych Theatre, directed by Peter Brook. It featured the powerhouse actress Glenda Jackson in her first major role. She played Marat’s assassin Charlotte Corday as a ‘waif-like narcoleptic unable to control her behaviour’.

Writing in The Observer thirty six years later, David Edgar said, “I was 16 when I saw this and it suddenly made clear to me what theatre could do… it was the best performance I’ve ever seen”. The production ran on Broadway in 1965 and in Paris. Glenda also appeared in the 1967 film version. Glenda was nominated for a Tony Award.

She left the theatrical stage for the political boards in 1992, where she is a Labour Party MP representing Hampstead and Kilburn. She signed this sketch at the House of Commons last week.