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21st June 2016

Review: King Lear

In light of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, this production of King Lear, with the lead role played by four-time Olivier nominee Michael Pennington, has been highly anticipated

King Lear is not a Shakespeare play that I hold particularly close to my heart in the way I have been known to hold others (shout out to Othello). However, it has stellar elements that Max Webster’s production successfully captures.

I particularly enjoyed the characterisation of Lear’s three daughters: Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan. They were the perfect blend of empowered, cruel, and vulnerable. The initial scenes between Lear and his daughters were done extremely well and gave a great insight into the differing nature of each daughter.

Edmund, the source of the villainous dramatic irony throughout the play, often monopolised the audience’s attention. I appreciated how frustrating it was to watch him as the mastermind behind a great deal of suffering. Even though his soliloquies were fundamental to the progression of the play, he could not steal from the way the three key women remained intriguing and commanding as characters in their own right, and not as accessories. Shakespeare consistently gives voices to the women in his plays and Webster did well to explore the relationships and capture the complex dynamic between the sisters and in relation to the men.

Nevertheless, the highlight of the play has to be the gore, which I may or may not have watched through my fingers. The prospect of gore on stage always makes me the most prone to pass out and the infamous scene in which Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out was done excruciatingly well. It was definitely more effective to have a single, harrowing scream rather than ketchup all over the stage.

However, the prose of King Lear may not be my favourite. I found the momentum of the play often slacked but the audience must accept that pace is often the hardest part of stagecraft, especially when dealing with writing originally meant for a Renaissance audience. Irrespective of the momentum, there were extremely funny moments and the plot became easy to follow once my ear had tuned into the Shakespearian jargon.

I promise that Shakespeare plays have more relevance today than they are widely given credit for, and I would definitely recommend seeing something Shakespearian, be it a comedy or a tragedy, to celebrate the Bard’s birthday this year.

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