Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Jonathan Miller
Reviewer: Jackson Lawrence
The Northern Broadsides theatre company prides itself on retelling classics with a northern voice. The actors speak in their own accents and King Lear is delivered with the same rustic, rugged charm of the north. The show is blunt, honest, simple. However, in a play that is centuries old, which has been studied, retold and reimagined for many years, is “simple” enough to stand up to the competition? Perhaps not.
When seen through the lens of a northern wit, there is untapped potential in the text. The actors bring out the comedy in the play. It is refreshing to hear laughter in the place of the dark and violent overtones which are so often expected of a production of Lear.
The acting is sound. The part of the Fool (Fine Time Fontayne) is particularly entertaining and is a highlight of the evening. Fontayne embraces all the virtues of the rôle and portrays the character with energy and joy. Similarly, Nicola Sanderson commands attention in her rôle of Regan. Her wry cackle is hardly noticeable in the auditorium, but it is piercing when heard – cutting through all other sounds and adding just a hint of sadistic enjoyment to proceedings. Barrie Rutter plays a strong Lear. He passionately forces through his lines, but occasionally does so at the expense of the tenderness of the character at certain points, particularly in Act I. Also worthy of comment is John Branwell’s Gloucester. Branwell’s stoic stage presence is strong without detracting attention from characters above the status of his own.
Overall, the design of the piece, by Isabella Bywater, is simple and understated. It’s nice, but perhaps could be made more a part of the production. There is very little interaction between the actors and their surroundings, which is a shame when the set reflects the characters’ dependence on outward appearance and overall emotional emptiness. There is something pleasant about simple sets, though, in their versatility. An unassuming frame has the potential to be manipulated and transformed, but Bywater’s set is just a little too static. That being said, the use of a small performance area on the vast, dark stage of the Theatre Royal does create a sense of isolation and emptiness which works well in this production.
Just as the performance begs for some sound in the form of music or birdsong, a thunder storm erupts. And thunderous it is; booming and rumbling through the crevasses of the ancient building. It adds an energetic thrill just as the performance starts to become stagnant.
Performing regional productions of Shakespeare and other classics may well be a key method of taking these plays back on behalf of the British public. However, in this piece, it is not as effective as it might have been. Between a few long transitions and a bland and obscure slow-motion sequence, the company struggles to hold the audience’s attention for the duration of the play. A northern production of the text may be a good concept, but it just lacks some intensity and excitement which would differentiate it from other versions of this well-known play.
Runs until Saturday 21st March 2015 | Photo: Nobby Clark