by William Shakespeare.
New Vic Theatre Etruria Road Newcastle-under-Lyme ST5 0JG To 13 June 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
A human-scale Lear that has reached many parts.
Northern Broadsides bring Shakespeare, and a wider classical and modern repertoire, with a cast of (here) fifteen, to places very few reach with such productions. To have done this at all is a tribute to the work of Broadsides’ founder and current Lear, Barrie Rutter.
His theatrical link with Miller goes back decades to a revelatory Nottingham Playhouse School for Scandal, evidence of a directorial mind of intellectual depth and coherence, which has no truck with the encrusted barnacles of tradition or assumption.
This Lear isn’t so much king of the castle, as king at The Castle – at least, Isabella Bywater’s set sits on the New Vic’s in-the-Round stage looking like a room in a pub remodelled on vaguely medieval lines. A single rail runs diagonally overhead, a curtain slung over it. Lear might be divvying-up Britain at a private meeting down the local.
Rutter, white-haired and bearded, might be a creature from Shakespeare or Samuel Beckett, an oratorical paterfamilias looking to make a final impression as he hands-out inheritances in a situation where everyone knows the decisions have already been made, and nobody expects anything to go wrong. No wonder Catherine Kinsella sits with fearful quiet, unlike the predatory stillness of her sisters, seated together but away from her.
It’s a situation where “what we ought to say” rules, where Cordelia’s determination to express “what we feel” seems wholly inappropriate. That sets the terms for the tragedy, where both the truth-telling daughter and the father angered by her disruption of his ceremony, end-up dead and others learn the essential need for honesty both in thought and what is said. So the play’s world swings through 180 degrees.
Along the way, there are some fine insights – John Branwell’s Gloucester hits upon “These late eclipses of the sun and moon” not as a general statement but as suddenly remembered corroboration – as if he’d just remembered a newspaper article supporting his view of things. Some performances are less accomplished but the final picture of Lear and Cordelia dead together centre-stage is quietly eloquent in a production focused on its individual characters.
Kent: Andrew Vincent.
Gloucester: John Branwell.
Edmund: Al Bollands.
Lear: Barrie Rutter.
Goneril: Helen Sheals.
Regan: Nicola Sanderson.
Cordelia: Catherine Kinsella.
Cornwall: Andy Cryer.
Albany: John Gully.
Edgar: Jack Wilkinson.
Oswald: Jos Vantyler.
Fool: Fine Time Fontayne.
France/Knight/Soldier: Ben Burman.
Burgundy/Old Man/Soldier: Josh Moran.
Knight/Soldier: Rikki Hanson-Orr.
Director: Jonathan Miller.
Designer: Isabella Bywater.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.
Musical Director: Conrad Nelson.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.