At 53, Danny Sapani is a young King Lear, but director Yaël Farber‘s choice is integral to a production that forefronts themes of vanity, spectacle and the folly of chasing status.

In a court where actions don’t speak as loudly as polished words, Sapani’s Lear is imposing and bear-like; he lashes out with his fists or through wounding words, his actions belying his fears that he's losing control.

Designer Merle Hensel’s set cleverly conjures the collision of natural and synthetic worlds. This is a coolly modern court. A backdrop curtain of shimmering metal chains spells out opulence and proffers concealment.

Ham & High: Clarke Peters as the Fool and Danny Sapani as LearClarke Peters as the Fool and Danny Sapani as Lear (Image: Marc Brenner)

Dust and grit cover the stage. The action of courtiers assembling microphones for a press conference sets the keynote for the opening scene. Lear’s pressured request to his three daughters to qualify their love through public address is made sharply relevant.

Officious Goneril (Akiya Henry) and her ruthless sister Regan (Faith Omole) glide into the spotlight, their father’s succession in clear sight. When Cordelia (Gloria Obianyo – a finely understated performance), refutes his desire for flattery, she sparks the first of many temper tantrums; microphones are pole-axed, Cordelia banished along with Kent.

Ham & High: Yael Farber's King Lear at The Almeida TheatreYael Farber's King Lear at The Almeida Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)

With the court in crisis, enter illegitimate Edmund from the house of Gloucester. Presented as a wild-boy Ulsterman, Fra Fee is impeccable in the role, easing the treacherous sisters into further depravity. Seduction scenes are ramped up to the max.

Sound is nearly ever-present. A sinister hum often intrudes. Edmund plays melancholy piano. Frenzied violin playing emphasizes ‘Poor Tom’s’ (Matthew Tennyson) existential crisis and Lear’s mental decline. Obianyo’s singing is wondrous as Cordelia voices her pain through spiritual laments.Ham & High: King Lear runs at The Almeida until March 30King Lear runs at The Almeida until March 30 (Image: Marc Brenner)

Staging during the storm goes full-tilt on the symbolism: Lear jumps into a tyre evoking a stranded ship wearing his y-fronts, and there’s an awful lot of billowing plastic.

Told with bracing clarity, at three-and-a-half hours the production savours its twilight atmosphere, which works to perfection in the first half while the second half loses some dynamism.

Clarke Peters as Lear’s Fool is a revelation, imparting his wisdoms with modulated caution and low-key vaudevillian panache. Puppet master or mystic? Sapani’s bear-king looks to his Fool with childlike awe as his world implodes.

King Lear runs at The Almeida Islington until March 30.