KING LEAR: William Shakespeare
Birmingham Rep to 28 May
Runs: 3h 30m, one interval
BO: 0121 236 4455
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 24 May 2016
Clear storytelling, honest performances, time well spent; and a ‘but’.
KING LEAR is a marathon of a play – for both performers and audience. So the first thing to say is that, at 3h 30m, this production never falters. It is clear and for the most part unfussed; this huge story carries us along with no hint of unwelcome melodrama.
Don Warrington is a very human King. At the opening there is a sense of him (Lear) acting at being old, playing a role; but as he loses everything, so he loses that sense of distancing himself – he moves closer to us emotionally. Lear, the human being, is never more prominent than in his relationship with the Fool (a warm performance from Milton Yerolemou)), or his relationship with Gloucester in the heath scene (Warrington has a terrific sense of how this scene works). And even more so in the play’s closing moments with Cordelia.
Gloucester is nicely flesh-and-blood filled out in Philip Whitchurch’s performance, and in an unusual twist, Fraser Ayers’ Edmond, far from signalling ‘villain’ is so very reasonable, on the outside a thoroughly decent chap. Rakie Ayola and Debbie Korley (Goneril and Regan) carefully never overplay their hand either.
So the production, in Michael Buffong’s hands, presents a very possible world, in which greed and hunger for power can let loose a flood of horror and cruelty. A world in which a human being, stripped of panoply which can breed arrogance and foolishness, can rebuild himself to manifest love and honesty.
Strange then that the settings and the rumblings and groanings from the soundscape should so simplistically signal TRAGEDY in capital letters. Signe Beckmann’s designs, in unimaginative blacks and greys lend the production an unfair old-fashioned feel from which it cannot entirely break free.
[Credits will follow]