Friday, 22 May 2015

King Lear @ The Lowry, 05.05.2015

George Bernard Shaw said “no man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear,” These words reside in my thoughts upon leaving The Lowry, after watching the Northern Broadside’s performance of the Shakespeare tragedy. Directed by Jonathan Miller, King Lear is a brutal play packed with betrayal, cruelty, madness and disaster. It’s a wonder if any of the audience can leave with their nerves in tact.

Regarded as one of Shakespeare’s monumental pieces the play depicts the titular character’s decent into madness, and the tragic consequences this brings. Stepping down from the throne Lear decides to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters, the portion size equating to the measure of their love. Flattering their father with dishonest words, daughters Goneril and Regan are prized with rule of the kingdom while the youngest and most devout daughter Cordelia is banished as she “cannot heave her heart into her mouth” to express her love.

With an already bold and dramatic narrative to tell, I would think it wise to keep the production’s design as simple as possible; an opinion clearly shared by designer Isabelle Bywater. The actors are placed in the Jacobean period and are starkly lit from the front casting everything in the periphery into darkness. This has the effect of focusing attention solely on the dialogue. This no-fuss approach makes it apparent that Miller’s concern is with the text, which the cast conveys through their strong performances.

Helen Sheals and Nicola Sanderson play the king’s elder daughters, the epitome of cruelty and without a strand of loyalty to anything but their own desires. They are completely aloof to their own crassness and conniving ways. Their ability to emulate these qualities in their roles reminds me of how my dad would measure an actor’s skill and talent by how much he hated the individuals they were playing. Helen and Nicola, it is a compliment to your ability: well done!

But if we are going to talk about evoking emotions then the showstopper is Lear himself, played by Barrie Rutter. His performance is flawless, breezing through the fast paced script with ease – reaching all the emotive peaks and troughs. Ruttler is also the company’s founder and director, and has gained a reputation for making Shakespeare more accessible. King Lear is a brilliant example of how he has managed to achieve this. The evident ethos to deliver the narrative with clarity paid off resulting in a bold, emotive and refreshing take on one of literatures greatest tragedies.

Words: Kate Morris

Image: Courtesy of The Lowry

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