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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
by Ben Clover
The stage was set unobtrusively stark by Tom Piper and Jonathon Goldstein's music was a good attempt at a Philip Glass fanfare but the overall effect was underwhelming. That we weren't given a firmer idea of setting wouldn't have mattered if the action of the play had been more assured. For Lear to really work either the King's descent into madness or the politicking of his relations must grip the audience. In the RSC's production neither commanded the attention and the tone was curiously even throughout. Always a challenge to pace correctly, this Lear had precious little zip and seemed even longer than its 225 minutes.
Redgrave's King appears first like a slightly embarrassing, aged relation on their birthday, asking his three daughters to flatter him. Then for the rest of the play he does vein-popping rage until he's finally struck mad. Only fleetingly is this Lear compelling in his descent although at one stage he reminded me of a Sgt Bilko struck down by Alzheimer's. Normally a versatile actor, here he used little variation in his portrayal of the tragic monarch.
Supporting performances that elicited no sympathy did not help the situation. Lear's loyal friend Kent (Louis Hilyer) seemed to deserve being put in stocks at the very least the night Curtain Up saw the show, and perhaps being made the subject of an Anti Social Behaviour Order. He seemed the devoted bully despots dream of as henchmen and detracted from the idea that Lear was more sinned against than sinning. David Hargreaves's Gloucester also seemed to deserve almost everything he got, coming across as a fool far too eager to mistrust his innocent son. For a night so full of overacting the famous eye-putting-out scene, normally so Tarantino-esque, seemed under-played.
It was left to the reliably fun parts of Edmund, Goneril and Regan to really put the nasty in dynasty. While Matthew Rhys's bastard has a grand time deceiving, seducing and riding his luck, the wicked sisters seemed a little less wicked when you saw what their father was like. One interesting characterisation was having Cordelia as a petulant sort who, when reunited with her unlucky father, felt more sorry for herself.
No one performance was outright bad in this King Lear but none, bar Edmund, was quite right. This was a doubly disappointing production considering the fine ingredients that had gone into it.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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