by William Shakespeare.
Old Schools Quadrangle Bodleian Library Broad Street OX1 3BG To 3 August.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 2.30pm.
Tickets: 01865 305305
then Shakespeare’s Globe 21 New Globe Walk SE1 9DT In rep 6-23 August.
2pm 7-9, 19, 23 Aug.
7.30pm 6, 9, 18, 20, 22 Aug (NB 6, 9 Aug sold out).
TICKETS: 020 7401 9919.
then Georgian Theatre Royal 27-30 August 2014.
7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm.
TICKETS: 01748 825252.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 July.
Tragedy intensified through comic edge, up-close and personal.
Nothing tests tragedy like seeing it with stretched means and at close quarters, as in this tour, which, for Shakespeare’s Globe, is small-scale. Doubling by most cast members goes beyond functional servants and messengers, presenting Daniel Pirrie simultaneously as foolish Oswald and villainous Edmund, racing across the stage, donning or removing a hat, to play both parts.
Smart in both roles, Pirrie gives Oswald an arrogance both natural and court-bred – or he would have realised he’s not made for fighting long before Edgar fatally tricks him. But what makes the comedy integral to the play, as it is throughout Bill Buckhurst’s initially fast-paced production, is that Pirrie has just played the servant who attempts to stop Gloucester’s eye being gouged-out, thereby instigating the action’s reversal of fortunes.
Lear’s Fool, the clearest comic element, is also a relentlessly bitter one, constantly referring humour back to serious matters. Bethan Cullinane (also a gentle yet purposeful Cordelia) isn’t entirely free of the unfunny comic exaggeration to which all Fools are susceptible, but her repeated observation of Lear and anticipation of his reactions to what she’s about to say show true concern – as does her surreptitious rescuing of Lear’s crown, concealing it behind her back.
While the Fool might please Lear, no humour would penetrate Bill Nash’s sternly practical Kent, making an interesting example of contrasting characters on the same side who would never see eye to eye.
Central to this Lear’s success is its Lear. Joseph Marcell’s magisterial king, at first bound-up in smilingly arrogant complacency, charts the change to madness when the props are kicked away. Marcell’s voice accommodates loud rage, broken despair and quiet serenity without losing richness or sense of character. Shouting others down, angrily perplexed, madly racing or exhausted in a wheelchair, this is every inch a royal, and human, portrait.
There’s a lot of bustle in the first half, enhancing the comic sense, but an incremental tragic intensity, culminating in the chalked map of England Lear tramples over as he divides the country, being finally mirrored when chalk outlines the bodies, lying dead together, of Cordelia and Lear
Goneril/Curan: Gwendolen Chatfield.
Cordelia/Fool: Bethan Cullinane.
King Lear: Joseph Marcell.
Edgar/Duke of Cornwall/Duke of Burgundy: Alex Mugnaioni.
Earl of Kent: Bill Nash.
Edmund/Oswald/King of France: Daniel Pirrie.
Regan: Shaanaya Rafaat.
Earl of Gloucester/Duke of Albany/Doctor: John Stahl.
Director: Bill Buckhurst.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom.
Composer: Alex Silverman.
Choreographer: Georgina Lamb.
Fight director: Kevin McCurdy.
Globe associate, text Giles Block.
Globe associate, movement: Glynn MacDonald.
Assistant director: Kirsty Patrick Ward.
Assistant text: Nicola Pollard.