AS the 2017 festival season in Chichester nears its end its faithful audience is rewarded with a mega-treat.

Sir Ian McKellen returns not only to the Minerva Theatre but also to the role of Lear which he first took on for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006. For actors taking on Lear it is like tackling Everest and McKellen feels the time is right to scale it again.

In his re-telling of this epic tale director Jonathan Munby, who gave us the excellent First Light in the 2016 season, has chosen to give it a contemporary edge. The characters appear in evening dress, cocktail party wear and even hoodies with the soldiers kitted out in battle fatigues and guns.

Action is focused on a circular dais with tension created at scene changes through a piercing shriek and throbbing music. Munby feels it appropriate to gender bend the role of the Duke of Kent into a countess. This gives the ever splendid Sinead Cussack a meaty role to sink her teeth in to. She gives a sound performance switching from smooth courtier to rough peasant as she, in disguise, follows the evicted Lear.

McKellen is magnificent. He has built upon his previous portrayal with an insight that unearths strengths and nuances. His first shuffling, semi-bemused appearance hints at the madness to follow. His descent thrills with its powerful rages and touches the heart with the fragility of despair. There are fine performances from Jonathan Bailey, Dominic Mafam, Damien Molony, Dervia Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell, Tamara Lawrence.

Phil Daniels’ Fool entertains with his Formby like ukulele playing and Danny Webb is outstanding as Gloucester. Michael Matus provides a delightful cameo as the officious steward, Oswald, forever smoothing down his hair.