Friday, 16 August 2013

King Lear

Bill Buckhurst’s touring production of King Lear, currently showing at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury is both intimate and passionate. Starkly staged, in a simple Elizabethan style structure, the production demonstrates an elegant economy, with just eight actors playing all the parts. This enables the production's emphasis upon identity and autonomy to be subtly explored as the characters shift their allegiances and the actors shift their parts.
Joseph Marcell brings enormous power to the role of Lear, being equally convincing as a vain and arrogant king at the beginning of the play to the pitiful lost monarch at the end. If his fury with Cordelia in the opening scene seems disproportionate and unnerving, his subsequent cursing of Goneril is truly frightening, and his ultimate grief for Cordelia is profoundly affecting, moving the audience to tears.
Bethan Cuillane, who plays both Cordelia and the Fool brings warmth to both parts, though she is markedly better in the Fool's role than as Cordelia. As the Fool she illuminates and counterpoints Lear, enabling us to feel affection for him throughout his tribulations and fragmentations. As his political and mental integrity is fractured, our sympathies for the King are almost entirely directed by the tenderness and sad wisdom with which the Fool conducts her relationship with him.
The production has impressive energy and pace, but this is not without its costs, not least the forfeit of Gloucester's tragic blinding, the horror of which somehow gets lost. This is an important and powerful moment in the play and this production curiously disinvests it of its potency, leading the audience to laugh (albeit rather uncomfortably) at the bloodless plucking of the second eye. That this lost moment does not derail the production is a mark of just how superb the rest of the play is.
A rolling red storm scene is deeply chilling, and the economy of the staging is at its superb best here. Also brilliant is the scene where Gloucester 'falls' from the cliff, no longer sure which way is up or down, and we are left in no doubt that all our moral certainties have been dreadfully compromised. The music, the lighting and the choreography all contribute to the overall intimacy of the production. The lights are left up throughout the performance, a gesture towards the open-air experience of the Globe. This also has the effect of drawing the audience into the production, collapsing the distance between the audience and the stage, and making us complicit in the production's exposure of the vanity, greed and violence which undermine the political and personal relationships around which this play revolves.
Buckhurst's production is compelling and inventive, and his actors step up to give some thrilling performances.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

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