The Royal Shakespeare Company’s fourth King Lear of the 21st century features its three-year ensemble company on fine form and Greg Hicks in the title role, working hard, as any RSC Lear now must, to efface memories of Ian McKellen’s superb performance in 2007.

Vocally and visually he presents a powerful monarch. His bellow is mighty in anger – if oddly Dalek-like as he rounds on the faithful Kent (Darrell D’Silva) with his “Hear me, recreant”. In milder moments we hear a rustic burr which, while it hardly sounds regal, is at least easy on the ear.

Physically, too, once he dispenses with clothes – they’re not especially kingly either – we see the powerful musculature of a ruler preparing not so much to crawl towards death as handspring there.

As a prelude to this unhappy conclusion comes the giving away of his kingdom. This is begun here, under director David Farr, in an almost offhand way, seemingly as a means of passing the time between the summoning into his presence of the lords of France (Brian Doherty) and Burgundy (Ansu Kabia) and their appearance at court.

This, of course, suggests a Lear already slightly batty. He further reveals his fragile grip on his senses as he rounds on the innocent Cordelia (Samantha Young) when she is unable to imitate the oily (and untrue) declarations of love for him supplied by her older sisters Goneril (Kelly Hunter) and Regan (Katy Stephens).

His misjudgment concerning the true nature of his children is matched by that of the good-sort Gloucester (Geoffrey Freshwater) for his offspring, the bookish Edgar (Charles Aitken) and villainous illegitimate Edmund (Tunji Kasim).

His ‘blindness’ over this is all-too-horribly reflected in the putting out of his eyes, which is accomplished by Regan and Cornwall (Clarence Smith) in as ghastly a way (a red hot poker is involved) as I recall seeing in this play – or rather not seeing, since I always look away.

Action throughout occurs in a set (Jon Bausor) that suggests an early 20th-century factory, with high paned windows, pulleys and low-hanging lighting, some of it fluorescent, whose flickering from the start seems designed as a prelude to the coming storm. When this arrives we find Lear taking what appears – rather ludicrously – to be a hot shower with his attendant Fool (Kathryn Hunter) performing acrobatics in the background.

Other notable performances include those of John Mackay as Goneril’s husband Albany, a hero by the end, and James Tucker, as her steward Oswald, always a badhat. I was sorry that the cuts in this production, which still runs for more than three-and-a-half hours, include his killer Edgar’s description of him, immortalised in the Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, as “a serviceable villain, as duteous to the vices of thy mistress as badness would desire”. But we can’t have it all.

Courtyard Theatre, until August 26. Tel: 0844 800 1110 (