Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Review King Lear (PREVIEW)

King Lear 
by William Shakespeare

Pop Up Britain

Would the rain hold off? That was the question in TLT's mind as she slalomed her way through the crowd towards the edge of the Globe stage with its pillars swathed in tarpaulin for Shakespeare's play of fractions and factions.

Of course a storm at the appropriate time would be nature's seal of approbation for one of the then Jacobean playwright William Shakespeare's most famous scenes - the storm scene both inciting and reflecting the madness of King Lear in the play first known to be performed in 1606.

Kevin McNally, best known for his role as Joshamee Gibbs in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movie franchise,  takes on the title role in the Shakespeare's Globe production directed by Nancy Meckler.

He's a very neat, one could almost call him dapper, Lear with a snowy white manicured beard and designer tattoos.

This Lear dresses in a not-quite-a-military uniform as if he were a corporate man with a penchant for vodka shots who has turned to a fashion choice of freshly laundered and ironed jacket and trousers in shades of khaki brown and beige.

There's a huge KEEP OUT daubed on the nailed up doors of the stage (designer Rosanna Vize) torn down by the motley crew of performers invading the stage with their shabby suitcases and creating a makeshift pop up Britain for this King Lear.

A goods trolley roll container from a warehouse (maybe in the age of the internet it's also warehouse Britain) lies on its side ready for them.

So these squatters zip up their windcheaters, turn their baseball caps, pull their beanies down over their ears. And lay a golden cloak and golden circlet crown on the ground for Lear, King of the Britons.

The daughters of Lear stand on crates, ready for their father to address them while the King's Fool (Loren O'Dair)  is a delicate Pierrot musician with a tear painted on her cheek, playing the violin.

Gloucester (Burt Caesar) is a credulous complacent astrology-believing  senior courtier in an Edwardian red velvet smoking jacket whose good and bad sides are embodied in his sons, all-too-gullible Edgar (Joshua Jameson) and driven, bitter illegitimate Edmund (Ralph Davis). 

The Duke of Kent becomes "Our Lady Of Kent" (Saskia Reeves), a bespectacled sensible woman politican in white jacket, skirt, blouse and court shoes, holding a large black book of accounts or minutes of the Royal court proceedings  or maybe a version of the Domesday Book, a book of land deeds.

She narrowly avoids a throttling when her position is ripped from her after she dares to question Lear's wisdom in giving up his kingdom in favour of his daughters and, more pertinently for a patriarchal monarchy, his sons-in-law.

There's Goneril (Emily Bruni), thin and sallow with pursed red lipstick lips, hair scraped back in a bun, a small cape around her bony shoulders.  Regan (Sirine Saba), black hair streaming down her back, is fleshier, more voluptuous in a silky white halter neck, a fur pagan pelt stole and long velvet skirt.

They pile on the flattery.  Cordelia (Anjana Vasan) famously says nothing, a small figure in over sized, virginal white high waisted robe and silver adornments,  all ripped from her by her angry father to reveal a plain slip which could pass equally for a 1960s dress.

This is a solid, vigorous flat cap production with clear verse speaking - ideal for exam students who, despite cuts, want to hear the text. At the same time, it didn't blow TLT or her own automotive courtier away.

The use of  the cage-like warehouse roll goods container for the tearing out of Gloucester's eyes by  Cornwall (Faz Singhateh), the changing of Edgar and the pitting of sister against sister over their deceitful lover Edmund felt rather laboured.

The best things about the production?

Saskia Reeves's sturdily loyal Kent with extra resonance when disguised she answers the question, "How now, what art thou?" with "A man, sir".

 And  Joshua James's loose-limbed scampering Edgar, the only character who via a lunatic vagrant disguise, really gets low down and dirty truly gaining the sympathy of the audience and credibly transforming into a thoughtful statesman by the end.

Otherwise it's altogether too clean and laundered and  a lacklustre mash up of the traditional and the modern in dress and delivery.

This otherwise conventional production of King Lear does extract a fair amount of comedy out of Lear's contradictions and his realisation of his two elder daughters' treachery, but it does feel this is at the expense of power and pathos.

Having said this, there is a gesture towards homelessness in a corporate Britain, with a courageous military soul drained into pointless voilence, and the Kingdom's division did make us think of the union, Brexit and the implications for the island of Ireland.

The rain held off and, while this wasn't top notch for us, this brisk and admirably clear (and maybe televisual?) version of Lear is still an excellent upper range amber light introduction for those coming fresh to the Bard.

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