(Seen at the afternoon performance on 12th April 2014). To sit as close
as the monkey did to Simon Russell-Beale as he berates Kate Fleetwood (Goneril)
to the point where she is literally quivering with fear counts as one of the
most 'electric' moments in its theatregoing memory. In fact, to be as close to
the stage that it felt every vibration of marching feet, caught every eye
movement, was to all intense and purposes almost "in" the thing, was exciting.
Oddly, more so occasionally than the action.
For this is a Lear in which the man himself diminishes rapidly both in the
script and against the vast scope of the production itself. An enormous cross
set into the floor and extending into the auditorium is a symbol of just how
bold this production is - because it seems of ineffective significance as the
immoralities unfold upon it.
Few other pieces of set - the odd desk, bed, table are required. The space
instead filled with actors, whenever upstage is not hidden to play a brief
sequence. With an elongated first half and overall running time of around 3
hours, the cinematic quality of this approach is emphasised, creating a mixture
of panning and zoom shots.
The pace is as relentless as film through a projector, and moments of quiet
reflection are lacking. Interestingly, the production benefitted from a scenery
mishap around an hour in. Rather than weaken the play, the unscheduled pause -
in what is usually 2 hours straight through - proved a welcome respite for cast
and audience alike, and it noticeably refreshed both.
There is plenty to enjoy. Aside from unhappy Goneril,
Anna Maxwell Martin
(Regan) and Olivia Vinall (Cordelia) prove equally watchable - Martin in
particular finding a particular streak of viciousness the monkey hasn't seen an
actor extract before from the role. Their father Russell-Beale adopts a
"cliff-like" approach, his decent from the insanity of despotism to the insanity
of illness rapid yet entirely credible.
Mention must also be made of Adrian Scarborough's Fool - a cunning politician
hiding in jester's (well, comic lounge suit) garb; and the pairing of Tom Brooke
and Stephen Boxer, who together supply an excellent emotional counterpoint to
Lear's own father / daughter relationship.
Yes, it's possibly too big a stage and in fact not a visually epic enough work
to fill the space; but the emotion is present, the time flies (unlike the set -
the monkey blames the work-experience help...) and those who manage to get
tickets should find a notable if not classic event well worthy of note.
A Small Family Business:
Not available - the monkey felt it too old, having attended the world
premiere of the play in the same venue in 1987... Reports are that Nigel Lindsay
and Niky Wardley do well with all the reviewers, but other characters are either
praised for their comedy abilities, or felt to be too thin to be credible,
depending whose opinion you read. The play itself is considered dated - what
shocked in the 1980s has rather been rubbed away by the internet, which struck
the monkey as sad. Still, the structure itself holds up, and the overall feeling
is that it's a rare chance to see a properly-staged full scale revival of a work
which hasn't come around often... unlike some of the characters, perhaps...
The James Plays:
"James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock": Not available.
"James II: Day of The Innocents": Not available.
"James III The True Mirror.": not available.