One of the most visually striking and innovative aspects of the production was Antony Sher’s white-faced, red-nosed clown. Wearing a ragged jacket with tails, a bowler hat and huge clown boots, he carried an instrument case containing a miniature violin, which he strummed like an ukelele. Sher painted this evocative self-portrait of himself as the Fool.
Reviewers compared Antony Sher’s portrayal to, amongst others, the famous 20th century Swiss clown Grock as well as Charlie Chaplin, George Formby and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
This Fool was “Lear’s alter-ego, the visible mark of his insanity. His Master’s Voice as he perches on his lap like a ventriloquist’s doll, the conscience of the king.”, Michael Billington, Guardian, 30 June 1982.
Antony Sher found wearing a red nose very liberating because, like wearing a mask, it releases inhibitions. The Stage Manager noted in the rehearsal notes that it was important that the red nose was soft enough to ping back on the Fool’s nose without it hurting.
During rehearsals, Noble suggested the actors pick an animal to play to help them release the savagery and wildness of the scene on the heath. Sher became an energetic, tumbling and chattering chimpanzee, which was a breakthrough moment in developing his interpretation.
Director Noble presented an innovative opening still life, featuring the Fool and Cordelia (Alice Krige) seated on Lear’s throne, facing each other at opposite ends of a stretched lead, thus creating a dumb show of their fates. In Shakespeare's text, the Fool doesn't appear in the opening court scene, but in this production he bid Cordelia a tearful goodbye. Noble also found a novel way to dispose of the Fool: while sheltering from the storm in a hovel, the raging Lear (Michael Gambon) accidentally stabbed the Fool through a pillow case while he was sitting in a barrel.