The Public Reviews’ Rich Jevons talks to Barrie Rutter, Founder and Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides, about his forthcoming performance as the lead rôle in a Jonathan Miller directed King Lear, following their successful collaboration in Rutherford &Son.
How have rehearsals been going?
It’s about story-telling and story-acting. Jonathan Miller’s direction is an absolute forensic examination of the human experience, with which he’s brought to it great clarity and alacrity. There is no big bombast, even when Lear is on the moor – which is often overdone. But what Jonathan has me doing, is like being without cover or knights for the very first time, nobody treating the character like a King. It’s just me and the elements.
Could you tell us about King Lear’s relationship with his daughters and his downfall?
King Lear has a favourite daughter, Cordelia, who gets married off to the king of France without her father’s blessing and his other two daughters shun him. The King ends up on the moor in a blizzard, realising that 99% of his country are poor, naked wretches – just as he has become. He is without anything in a thunderstorm and realises he has done wrong to his people.
He asked for his fate because he is full of folly, but he hasn’t given anything up. He says he will slink away into death but he doesn’t, so no wonder the sisters get fed up.
Are there aspects of what we would now call dementia in Lear’s madness?
Yes, when Gloucester is blinded and Lear comes onto him with flowers in his hair, the whole scene is unconnected, hallucinatory dementia images. The act of playing them out isn’t connected at all, so it makes it a bugger to learn! 350 years later we recognise Alzheimer’s and a lot of the scenes are perfect examples of dementia-type behaviour.
Does Shakespeare want us to know what it feels like to have nothing left?
Well, “nothing” appears throughout the play…
Nothing will come of nothing
Thou art nothing
What does the play say about a monarch and his subjects?
He knows he’s been a fool and taken little care of them. He realises how most of the poor wretches under him have had to live. The recognition is one thing, but by then it’s a bit too late.
Why do you think King Lear is considered so special a part of Shakespeare’s oeuvre?
It grows by the fame of the people playing it. There has been a spate of productions recently but that’s no reason not to do it. In the 18th century they couldn’t bear it and wrote a happy ending in which Cordelia and Lear are re-united and everyone went home happy. Jonathan has directed it five times before so we benefit from the knowledge he brings to it.
Finally, congratulations on your OBE!
Thanks, I accepted it with great sincerity and if I can use it for its power for the company then all the better!
Northern Broadsides’ King Lear opens at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifaxon 3rd March 2015 (previews from 27th February) before touring.
For more information, please visit the Northern Broadsides Website