BWW Reviews: KING LEAR, Royal and Derngate, April 5
In case you missed it (living under a rock? Moved to a remote island to find yourself and only just came back?) 2016 is 400 years since Shakespeare's death and theatres are programming accordingly. Royal and Derngate follows the Shakespeare-themed THE HERBAL BED with KING LEAR with Michael Pennington in the lead role.
With a bleak country house-crossed-with-a-warehouse look, the acting really takes centre stage in this production. Pennington's Lear starts irascible and stubborn - a man who is used to power and who has let it go to his head. He flies off the handle at his favourite daughter for not being able to flatter enough him about how much he loves her and is incapable of admitting the fault, even as his silver-tongued older daughters fail to live up to their professions of devotion. Lear's descent into madness is fuelled by anger and confusion as he fails to get his way and is powerful and affecting to watch. His later scenes with Pip Donaghy's Gloucester work particularly well - two white-haired, bearded men; one sick in mind, the other in body; struggling to find a place in a shifting, changing world they can no longer control. As Goneril and Regan, Catherine Bailey and Sally Scott plan and scheme and try to one-up each other in their meanness, although Scott could have done without the baby she was toting for much of the time.
And the puppet baby leads me on to pretty much the only area where my companion (and RSC regular) and I had reservations - the costuming. What starts as a bit of an interwar country house shooting party vibe (but with swords in shoulder holsters instead guns) morphs into what looked like a UN mission somewhere hot in the mid-90s as the two sides prepared for battle. The Fool's costume seemed strangely out of joint with the rest of the look - detracting from good work done by Joshua Elliott, despite my long-standing dislike of concertinas in all their forms.
Costuming quirks and dodgy baby aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this take on what is arguably Shakespeare's finest tragedy. It goes on tour after its time in Northampton and wouldn't be a bad choice if you were only going to see one Shakespeare play to mark this year's big anniversary.