Theatre Review: King Lear

16 May

Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow 29th April 2012

Photo by Tim Morozzo

I arrived at the Citizen’s Theatre to a packed foyer.  Glasgow’s great and good quaffing Chenin Blanc (Chardonnay is so 90s), people parting to make way as a herd of teens from a prestigious private school file through, tossing their glossy manes and braying at one another enthusiastically.  It’s not often I go to the theatre, it makes me uncomfortable, and this reminded me why.  The segregation of society is still evident here: the theatre doesn’t do enough to make itself relevant and accessible to the working classes, and what a shame to miss a performance such as this.

Dominic Hill’s masterful production of King Lear focuses on that which makes Shakespeare’s narratives wholly relevant, regardless of the age in which they are being performed, or indeed the audience receiving them.  Greed, betrayal, anger, vulgarity, financial transactions gone wrong with grievous consequences; all these are instantly recognisable in today’s society.

The stark stage set of bare wooden boards, with the flotsam and jetsam of city life littering the sidelines, was a perfect backdrop to this play, and the nails-on-a-blackboard piano soundtrack was a move of absolute genius.  The barren setting was echoed in the actors’ portrayals, with Shauna MacDonald’s Regan particularly devoid of humanity.  Another standout performance was that of Paul Higgins, bringing (much to my delight) elements of ‘the crossest man in Scotland’ to Kent’s more enraged moments.

David Hayman gives a unique, compelling and harrowingly human performance in the lead role of this well-loved play.  His King Lear is full of bravado, which he diminishes with enviable subtlety in the face of his daughters’ betrayal, until he is reduced to a trembling and broken man who we’re still not quite sure we should feel sorry for.  The interplay of the Fool and Kent, pushing and pulling Lear, echoes the instability of Lear’s own inner self, and I can’t help but wonder if the support they seek to provide the King carries an undertone of revenge, even from these, his most loyal companions.

Lear’s kingdom dissolves around him, and the unrest of his own mind is played out in the increasing agitation of the actors of the company, prowling the boundaries of the stage like animals waiting for the kill.  The inference of dementia, as a dressing-gowned Lear is brought onto the stage in a wheelchair, is nicely done, and carries real significance; however I was disappointed the poignancy of Cordelia’s return was blunted by a slightly inexperienced performance.  As the players fall prey to their own greed, one by one, they shunt us sorrowfully to a climactic scene both bleak and outrageous, with the fate of all ruined.

Kind of like what the Government is doing now.

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