Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Max Webster
Reviewer: Jess Rowe
The darkness in Shakespeare’s aching family tragedy remains resolute in Royal &Derngate’s production ofKing Lear, with a never-ending sense of solemnity by the end.
Following the ageing tyrant and title character, revived beautifully by Oliver-nominated Michael Pennington, whose mighty flaw is his inability to distinguish between forced materialistic love and that of pure devotion, only to realise too late. When Lear decides to divide the kingdom up between his three daughters in exchange for their words of flattery, daughters Goneril and Regan (ruthless portrayals by Catherine Bailey and Sally Scott) praise him to his heart’s content while his youngest, Cordelia (Beth Cooke), struggles to salvage the extent of her love in words. A tempered and irrational Lear disinherits her, believing she does not truly love him.
Supporting Lear on his loss of a kingdom and daughters, his trusted friend Gloucester (Pip Donaghy) is portrayed with shear puppy-like companionship with sympathy embellishing on his part, even at his most gruesome scene. Alongside Joshua Elliot’s wonderfully melodic role of The Fool bringing a ray of light to the stage full of misery. Gavin Fowler’s Edger is exquisite, soaring from an untroubled son of Gloucester to becoming forced into a life of hiding in a false persona of a madman and circling back to his consecration to his father. His brutish, feral midpoint is done wonderfully with intense detail emphasising the intelligence and caution of his character.
Within this production, Alison De Burgh’s stage combat pleads for improvement as the lack of impact noise, commitment to choreography and most frustratingly lack of reaction means that the physical conflict is somewhat comical as opposed to life threatening.
The minimalistic set of Adrian Linford with a few additions of a chandelier or the remains of a tree to enforce the setting is a pleasant juxtaposition to the disorder of the storm. With a wind machine, rumbling thunder and short outbursts of lightning it begins on the verge of being epic. However, as the sense progresses the tension dies and the storm becomes quite anti-climatic and, again, their struggle becomes comical.
The piercing sound highlighting the transitions creates an unnerving tension in the audience, which builds the expectations of the next point of action; needless to say, we rely on Pennington not to disappoint. His destruction of oppressing leadership to weakness, powerlessness and madness is heart-breaking. Never so much in this production do you feel hatred for Lear, just pity.
Runs until 18 June 2016 | Image:Marc Brenner