Now I wish I had abandoned my attempt at staying in to be an anchor for my child who is revising and taken myself off to the Richmond Theatre to see King Lear. Instead my friend John O’Brien went and below is his King Lear review at Richmond Theatre. It sounds incredible:-
Never, never, never, never, never have I seen a King Lear as moving as Mark Webster’s and Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever will Michael Pennington’s Lear remain in my memory. This is a wonderful production which demonstrates why Shakespeare matters and why live theatre is irreplaceable.
King Lear is a simple Cinderella like story in which a King invites his daughters to outbid each other in the love stakes in return for a share of his Kingdom. Goneril (Catherine Bailey) and Regan (Sally Scott) the two ugly sisters are duly obsequious but Cordelia (Beth Cooke) Cinderella refuses to flatter. The ugly sisters are rewarded with shares of the kingdom and Cordelia is banished. From this initial decision the tragedy of Lear unfolds with inexorable & unremitting intensity. Shakespeare adds a sub plot which echoes the Cinderella main plot. This time it’s a Father and two sons triangle. Gloucester (Pip Donaghy) the Father and Edmund ( Scott Karim ) the bad son and Edgar ( Gavin Fowler ) the good son. Naïve and unworldly Gloucester is manipulated by the scheming Edmund, into thinking that Edgar is plotting to kill him, and so like Cordelia, Edgar is forced to flee for his life. Within this matrix, Shakespeare weaves a web of interconnecting threads, of astonishing psychological subtly, variety and emotional power.
The director Max Webster deserves credit for putting together a cogent and convincing production which manages to convey both the incredible richness and subtly of the verse and at the same time keep the narrative drive of the play moving forward so that the play takes over ones sense of time and one so willingly and entirely enters into the world he has created that time dissolves. This is a great achievement and congratulations to Max and his team for pulling it off so brilliantly.
Michael Pennington’s Lear is haunting, disturbing, touching, moving and unforgettable. He is a perfect Lear. His range – physical, psychological and vocal is remarkable. Phyically he changes from the robust and vigourus, to the immobile and all states in betwixt. The sheer physical energy of a virtually continuous three hour performance is astonishing. Equally impressive is his psychological range. From the haughty King in Act One to the raging madman on the heath, to the broken Father in Act Five. This is acting of a capaciousness and range that is truly miraculous. But it is the timbre of his voice that is mesmerising and haunting and that stays with one long after the play is done. His delivery of some of the most memorable lines in all drama is spot on : “you unnatural hags” is one of many phrases that are playing in my head. Others include: “unaccommodated man is but a poor forked animal”, “as flies to wanton boys, are we to th’Gods; they kill us for their sport.” “That she may feel how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” “Nothing will come of nothing”. And of course with Cordelia’s hanging not to mention the deaths of Goneril & Regan, Lear finally learns that “to wilful men, the injuries that they themselves procure must be their schoolmasters.” Pennington manages to control his voice and change register, tone and volume with majestic authority and mesmerising vocal power.
There are many fine performances from a wonderful cast – I particularly liked Catherine Bailey’s Goneril. She conveyed a sense of menace and ruthlessness that was Lady Macbeth like in its icy coldness. And her change from a red dress in the opening scene, to power suit and trousers in the 2nd was inspired. Gavin Fowler’s Edgar is acting of a high order. He scrambles about the heath pretending to be Poor Tom and it is a tour de force that is worth the admission price alone.
Joshua Elliott’s Fool with his accordion is spot on. He uses the accordion again and again as a phallic prop with gusto and bawdy speaking truth to power as only Fools can in Shakespeare. “Thou should’st not have been old till thou hadst been wise.” Pip Donaghy’s Gloucester captures perfectly a kindly father utterly bewildered by man’s capacity for deception and cruelty. As ever the spectacle of his eye gouging (“out, vile jelly!”) is horrific and pitiable and the Duke of Cornwall’s (Shane Attwool) jibe in the aftermath, “let him smell his way to Dover”, must rank as one of the cruellest jokes in all drama.
I for one shall be returning to the Richmond Theatre tonight for more. This is theatre and Shakespeare at its very best.