Paul Johnson | 04 Mar 2012 19:00pm
Simon Wallace pulled off something quite remarkable with his production of King Lear. When I read that he had transposed the story to 1920s America and swapped swords for guns, I was somewhat sceptical – after all, with its mix of jealousy, sex, rage, murder, adultery, insanity, violence and eye-gouging, this is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. I had visions of Al Capone type hoodlums with violin cases and dodgy American accents. But this setting worked – and how! The whole scope of tragedy was captured, as was the detail to the text.
The set was simple but effective with good use made of the steps on either side of the scaffold and the bridge across. The lack of distracting props allowed the actors to be the focal point, and they certainly rose to the occasion. Projected images were used to create multiple environments of interiors and exteriors of houses and the Brooklyn Bridge. I particularly liked reading the headlines from The New York Times that appeared on the back wall at various points in the story. An oft-used tool, it informed us of recent events such as the death of Regan’s husband Cornwall, as well as moving the story along. Likewise sound was used to good effect, especially with the visual rainstorm later in the play.
In the opening scene Lear, played by Jim Markey, held court with family and friends as a club singer, elevated on the top steps of the scaffold, sang ‘Singing In The Rain’ followed by ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’. It transpired that the club singer was also Shakepeare’s Fool and Lear’s lover. The employment of a female fool and club singer certainly gave an inspired twist to Shakespeare’s story as the fool sings of ‘the wind and the rain’ (III, ii,75). George Marsh, (the programme gave no indication that the fool was female), gave a delightful and tuneful performance throughout. Another touch of genius by Wallace was intertwining the Fools lines within the melody of jazz songs, in particular ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’. The opening song, ‘Singing In The Rain’ was an indication of the storm to come later when Lear descends into madness and his lover tries to offer him shelter under her umbrella – this scene was very moving and well played.
So to the story – Lear, having given his land and power to his eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, has effectively secured his own fate and unravels into a spluttering, shoeless wanderer. Jim Markey’s portrayal of King Lear reached the heights of self-loathing and the depths of chaotic despair, madness and vindictiveness. Some of his most moving scenes are with the Fool, his lover. Laura Eddy gave a fabulous portrayal of devious Goneril displaying sensuality and power in equal measure. With Verity Mann as Regan, the two women captured the full depth and breadth of the characters with almost frightening conviction. Cordelia was played with fine contrast by Fulya Burke as the virtuous daughter. The whole cast held their own, from double-crossing Edmund played by Patrick Sunners as a cold and capable villain, to Luke Lilly, outstanding as Edgar who masquerades as a lunatic beggar and was quite disturbing in his isolation. I enjoyed Norman Reynolds performance as the outspoken yet loyal Kent. John Keogh as Gloucester gave a measured performance as weak and ineffectual at the beginning, finding courage at the end. There were some wonderful support performances from the rest of the cast, and everyone maintained their American accents throughout.
Margaret Wallace did an excellent job on costumes – full marks for Goneril’s change of clothing from a dress to trouser suit as she became more powerful. My only criticism with this production was the lack of audibility on a few occasions when Cordelia and Kent spoke their lines upstage. Overall, there were so many things that I enjoyed about this production. Congratulations to Director Simon Wallace and all involved.
- : admin
- : 22/02/2012