King Lear – February 2010


By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Monday 22nd February 2010

This was only the fourth performance. I felt there was some good stuff, and some things that didn’t work so well. The biggest problem was blocking – Darrell d’Silva as Kent kept blocking our view through several scenes, and didn’t budge for up to five minutes! Also, I didn’t care for the flickering lights – if the acting can’t create the tension required, those lights ain’t gonna do it. And when there was a good atmosphere of suspense created, I found the lights distracted me.

The set design was a warehouse, much dilapidated and crumbling – very industrial grunge. A square plinth was raised or lowered in the middle of the stage as required. Assorted lights hung over the stage, from a chandelier to modern strip lights. There was also a bell in the far right corner with a rope that hung down to the stage. Furniture and other props were brought on as needed, and the setup and removal was pretty brisk.

They used Edwardian/first world war costumes and uniforms for the daughters’ side, with Lear and Cordelia in romantic medieval dress, and using swords. Contrasting the disillusionment of the ‘modern’ age with the romantic ideals of earlier times, perhaps? This production also used the technique of bringing the characters for the next scene on stage, having them speak the first few lines of that scene, then holding their position while the stage is cleared or reset. I only remember it being done a few times – will this change? Also, this production blended three scenes so that all three sisters are on stage at the same time – Goneril reading her letter from Edmund, Cordelia praying for her father, and Regan trying to tempt Goneril’s letter to Edmund out of Oswald’s keeping. Nice touch.

In terms of the staging itself, they had enough actors in the cast to provide Lear with a number of followers at the start, but I felt there wasn’t enough of a reaction from them when Goneril was telling her father off. The advantage of having large numbers to show how Lear’s followers leave him was negated by the deadening effect if we don’t see any reactions.

The storm scene used ‘real’ rain, falling on the raised plinth, with only Lear getting wet. Not much thunder, so the lines were easier to hear, but there was much less tension. The interval was taken after this, when Gloucester led Lear away to shelter.

When Lear has been brought to shelter, and has the trial of his daughters, Edmund had previously been left at the back, sitting in a chair at a desk, having just betrayed his father. As the next scene is set up, Goneril appears from behind the curtain and straddles Edmund. Didn’t see what else happened – too caught up in the scene in the foreground. After the trial, the Fool chooses not to go with Kent and Lear to Dover, and isn’t seen again, hanged or otherwise.

The battle sequence, with Gloucester still lying in a corner of the stage, was done by each side striding across a lit diagonal, followed by the sound effects of gunfire, etc. Then several bags deposited small piles of sand across the stage, although one bag kept going with a small dribble of sand through the rest of the scene – intentional or accident? Certainly distracting. [From understudies run, it was an accident – didn’t happen for that performance.]

Edmund has a pistol during the duel, but with a big two-handed sword to deal with, he doesn’t get a chance to draw it until later, when a watchful soldier disarms him. The duel was over quickly, a good choice, I think.

The performances: Kathryn Hunter was good as the fool. I don’t know if I’m just getting familiar with the lines or they were better delivered tonight, but I got more than usual from this part – probably a bit of both. Greg Hicks’ performance is good overall, but still a little patchy. Once or twice he reminded me of Lily Savage – not an image I usually associate with Lear. I think it was the large fur collar on his jacket that gave that impression. He was believable in the mad scenes, although he didn’t display as much emotion as some I’ve seen. Not sure what Lear was like before the play begins, how did he ever hold a kingdom together? This production may have suffered a bit from the discrepancy between the set and the costumes, especially in the first half – the performance didn’t seem to fit in that space. I felt it worked better in the second half, as the military uniforms blended in more.

Katy Stephens was good as Regan, and well matched by Kelly Hunter as Goneril. Both were predatory, and I got the feeling that their treatment of Lear wasn’t premeditated from the start, but when they confronted Lear together at Gloucester’s place they took the opportunity to tighten the noose. I’m not sure about the other performances yet, although James Tucker was good as Oswald, those lines that he was left with anyway.

The cuts we noticed – if it be lawful, I take up what’s cast down (one of my favourite bits!), Oswald’s lines asking Edmund to take the letter to Edgar, Lear’s lines at the end about Cordelia reviving.

Overall, I hope this improves, but I’m not banking on it.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at