Writer: William Shakespeare
Music: Tom Mills
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Jackson Lawrence
Classically, William Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear tells the story of the self-righteous king of England who demands flattery from those around him. When his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to declare her love for her father in the same, sensationalised manner as her sisters, she is exiled. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lear is felled by his arrogant hubris and his other two daughters attempt to overthrow him. Bailey’s production is set in the gang-ridden streets of London during the 1960’s and illuminates the fragility of an empire during a change of leadership.
Bailey demonstrates creativity and innovation in her justification of the relevance of Shakespeare’s plays in a more modern society. It is often observed that the tenacity of these plays stems from their foundations which lie in the universal and unchanging human emotions. Bailey skilfully uses this to her advantage by retelling Shakespeare’s tale of complacent vanity and ignorance in an imaginative and exciting new setting.
Put simply, William Dudley’s design is striking. He has worked previously with Bailey on The Winter’s Tale earlier this year and the pair has proved to make a formidable team. Bailey’s production is very visual and includes symbolism through empty warehouses and rainy street corners and Dudley not only facilitates this but takes it in his stride to show his expertise. Even in such a promising and majestic venue as Bath’s Theatre Royal, Dudley uses an extended stage and exciting projections to surround the audience with the world of the play.
Bailey’s production is delightfully sensual. Upon entering the auditorium, the music and stunning scenery makes the play come to life. Even the sense of smell is stimulated by a fragrant aroma of the clubs and penthouses of the 1960’s.
The whole company appears to be unfazed by the anachronistic nature of the interpretation. In fact, the performance is remarkably comfortable to the extent that it seems almost like a natural setting for the play. The acting is wonderfully executed by all members of the ensemble. Bailey’s Fool (played by Simon Gregor) has the charm of a Shakespearean clown. Gregor competently demonstrates the essential improvisation skill which is demanded by such a rôle and the slapstick humour, despite being more raucous than refined, seems to be a tip of the hat towards the original ways in which Shakespeare’s fool would have been brought to life. Additionally, Samuel Edward-Cook delivers a captivating interpretation of the vindictive Edmund. It is hard not to be empathetic towards the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester as he rises maliciously to a position of power which surpasses his birth. David Ganly’s portrayal of the Earl of Kent is sound and shows strength in his ability to portray a character in disguise.
The title rôle is played by David Haig who is, in a word, phenomenal. He delivers an impassioned, intense performance which is utterly breath-taking. He shows such remarkable transformation from powerful leader to pathetic, pained, pitiful madman. This character progression which gives the play such significance is demonstrated by Haig’s magnificent understanding of Lear.
This production is a testimony to Bailey’s ability as a director of Shakespeare’s plays. It is highly entertaining, visually astonishing and speaks to the audience on personal and general levels. It is thoroughly enjoyable and seems to succeed in all of its aims. This is an absolute must-see.
Runs until Saturday 10th August 2013.