The RSC engaged in its first international collaboration, working with the highly respected Japanese theatre director Yukio Ninagawa on a production of King Lear. Ninagawa had previously directed Japanese versions of 'Macbeth' and 'The Tempest' in the UK, and was committed to staging all 37 of Shakespeare's dramas over 13 years at his base, the Saitama Arts Theatre, north of Tokyo. The first three, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Richard III, were played in Japanese to a Japanese audience.
King Lear was the first to be performed in English, first in Japan, and then at the Barbican in London. For this marriage of East and West, the quintessentially English Nigel Hawthorne took the part of the king, whose betrayal by his daughters drives him to madness. From day one, rehearsals were more akin to a traditional dress rehearsal: it was assumed that the actors knew their lines, and the purpose was to refine physical interaction and their understanding of the set - inspired by Japanese Noh and Kabuki theatre, with the Rising Sun as a backdrop.