King Lear – May 2010

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Vik Sivalingam

Company: RSC Understudies

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 4th May 2010

The first time we saw this was back in February, when it had only just opened. Today’s understudies run had a few differences, but it was basically the same, and no more interesting than before as a production, though the understudies gave good to excellent performances. Several of them were preferred to the original cast, though to be fair we would need to see this again to see how it’s come on.

Our seats were on the opposite side, giving us an interesting change of perspective. We lost some things – couldn’t see the nuns in the upper level, for instance – but gained on others, although I still didn’t pay close attention to the blinding scene. The flickering lights were still unnecessary, but from the side the industrial shambles set wasn’t so intrusive, which helped.

Darrell d’Silva took a break, presumably to help his hand injury heal, so there were fewer ‘other part’ players available. The march across the diagonals by each side in the battle was reduced to one side only – Lear, Cordelia and one other – and the rabble of knights seemed depleted from the off, but that may have been our angle. Lear was joined on the platform during the thunderstorm by the fool, an interesting doubling with Cordelia, but this production was predicated on two separate actors so couldn’t make anything of it. Hannah Young played Goneril today, but as she understudies Regan as well, Katy Stephens played her own part. I must say, the understudies didn’t seem out of place at all.

The performances were more broad-brush this time around, which may have worked better for us, but we were still moved during the later scenes, such as Edgar’s discovery of his father’s blinding. I did nod off a bit during the first half, but since the World Snooker Championship final didn’t finish till well after midnight last night, it was only to be expected.

Paul Hamilton did well as Kent (and didn’t block our view once), Adam Burton was nicely evil as Edmund, Ansu Kabia did a good job of Edgar, and I liked Sophie Russell both as the fool and as Cordelia. James Gale did well enough as Lear, though there’s so much range to the part that it’s asking a lot for an understudy to get a performance up to speed so quickly. Still, I could see him as the kind of man to revel in flattery and then go insane when he comes into contact with harsh reality.

An interesting afternoon then, if not the most enjoyable one.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

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