by William Shakespeare.
Tobacco Factory Raleigh Road BS3 1TF To 24 March 2012.
Mon-Wed; Sat 7.30pm Thu, Fri 8pm no performance 9 April Mat Sat & 1, 8 March 2.30pm.
Runs 3hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 0117 902 0344.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 February.
Clarity and logic result in an exciting Lear.
A company producing Shakespeare in a former tobacco factory calls itself Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory. Such plain logic, alongside respect for verse structure, makes Andrew Hilton’s production gripping, without reducing the play’s dimensions.
Staged in the round with a table for the first part and little more furnishing, the good sense starts with the opening line, given context by the Earl of Kent poring over the map of England detailing the way Lear’s about to allocate his kingdom between his three daughters and their husbands.
It suggests Lear’s plans have been talked about at court, while Kent’s surprise the map’s boundaries don’t reflect Lear’s various affections reinforces the idea the king’s indulging his feelings, not making rational choices.
Illuminating moments run through this first scene. John Shrapnel’s Lear becomes angry at Cordelia only when she shows she’s serious in refusing to flatter him by giving reasons for her behaviour. Till then it’s been all smiles for the favourite daughter who runs on a little late.
Yet from the start she’s a match for her sisters and no dutiful Victorian-style daughter. Only when adversity requires love for Lear does she give it unreservedly.
Then there’s Lear’s mocking glance at her when picking-up her word “nothing”, his surprise at the King of France taking her without a dowry – and Gloucester’s upon returning to what he’d assumed would be a happy scene.
But it’s not just details though that makes this Lear involving. There’s clarity over Shakespeare’s repeated theme of people falsifying their thoughts. Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s Regan is at her softest, most pleading when most unkind, and Cornwall seems to find his own violence shocking. Christopher Staines’ Edgar, as Poor Tom, apparently shivers in insanity while actually curled-up in grief at his estranged father’s new understanding of him.
And Shrapnel’s Lear, moving from authoritatively-dressed ruler, through sweaty derangement in a string vest to eventual white-clothed serenity with Cordelia, inhabits the costume changes with a path from brisk orders through flashes of insight amid a turbulent mind to ultimate understanding. Rarely has a Lear, or a Lear, so cohered in its various stages
Earl of Kent: Simon Armstrong.
Earl of Gloucester: Trevor Cooper.
Edmund: Jack Whitam.
Lear: John Shrapnel.
Goneril: Julia Hills.
Cordelia/Servant: Eleanor Yeates.
Regan: Dorothea Myer-Bennett.
Duke of Albany: Alan Coveney.
Duke of Cornwall: Byron Mondahl.
Duke of Burgundy: John Sandeman.
King of France/Doctor: Paul Currier.
Edgar: Christopher Staines.
Knight/Curan/Captain: Piers Wehner.
Knight: Benjamin O’Mahony.
Lear’s Fool: Christopher Bianchi.
Scribe/Messenger: Danann McAleer.
Director: Andrew Hilton.
Designer/Costume: Harriet de Winton.
Lighting: Matthew Graham.
Sound/Composer: Elizabeth Purnell.
Fight director: John Sandeman.
Associate director: Dominic Power.
Assistant director: Iain MacDonald.