King Lear

At the risk of sounding ageist, an immediate concern with any student theatre company taking on Shakespeare’s tragedy of tragedies, King Lear, is that it is in many respects a play about old age. Thankfully, despite its youthful cast, this particular production by the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Co. has an absolutely solid foundation: Will Fairhead, as Lear, embodies the shrinking posture and gentle trembling of a man worn down by time and mental anguish. Also, Ben Schofield and Tom Stuchfield as the Earls of Gloucester and Kent respectively – the former a courtier betrayed by his conniving illegitimate son Edmund, the latter a loyal soldier who disguises himself in order to stay at Lear’s side – also bring an authentic air of old age, embodying their characters with real sympathy and understanding.

An impressive production, which clearly ensures that we don’t miss the main themes of the play – the fear that comes from growing old, and the inherent problems involved when it comes to any question of succession.

Director Henry Conklin provides us with a visually clean, unfussy production. The set is stark and simple, dominated by angular doors, raised platforms, and a plain metal throne – all silver-grey and light sky blue. The cast, meantime, spend much of their time standing still, a minimalistic choreography that turns each scene into a clearly defined tableau. This simplicity is carried into the costumes; the women are all dressed in black, the men in black trousers and white tops. Lear is distinguished from the rest by being dressed in increasingly grubby white, wrapped in grey; the Fool – Pedro Leandro, who brings a stand-up comedian smirk to the role – is dressed oppositely from the rest, with black top, white trousers and small blue hat.

This visual clarity is obviously intended to help focus our attention on the characters, and – more importantly – what they say. It’s an entirely appropriate approach, except that – despite projecting their voices well – many of the cast’s diction is far from clear. There are exceptions, of course: Fairhead as Lear, and an incredible Marina Windsor as his loyal, but spurned, youngest daughter Cordelia, both clearly emote the poetry and emotion in what their characters say. It’s a shame, though; arguably the saving grace of this darkest of Shakespearian tragedy – its beautiful poetry – is too often sacrificed for the sake of speed and action.

And this includes, somewhat strangely, the assumed big scene in the play; when the usurped king is left ranting and raving into the thunderstorm on the moor. Arguably, it’s the one time when Fairhead’s diction is lost in the fury of his performance, while Leandro also seems somewhat upstaged, especially once Macleod Stephen as Mad Tom – Gloucester’s legitimate heir, in disguise – leaps onto the stage with just shorts and dirt-paint to preserve his modesty.

Overall, though, this version of King Lear is an impressive production, which clearly ensures that we don’t miss the main themes of the play – the fear that comes from growing old, and the inherent problems involved when it comes to any question of succession.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

The Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company is delighted to announce their 2016 production will be King Lear. Shakespeare’s epic tragedy about the ageing king, and the true nature of goodness is brought to new life by the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company. Lear descends to madness, and

his family cuts him loose as things become simply too much for anyone to make sense of.

Written 410 years ago, for many, King Lear is the archetype upon which all modern tragedy is based; a gruelling text in which Lear is dealt blow after blow in a struggle to retain something of his former self.

This production explores his struggle and his family and how they react to exceptional circumstances. When stripped of its grandeur and tradition, King Lear is far from an inaccessible 400 year-old text, but rather a thorough investigation of what it means to grow old and what it means to be loved.

Now in its seventh year, the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company takes what is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy and allows it to become a play about a father who’s mind slips away from him and how those around him are forced to compensate.

Under Henry Conklin’s direction, Will Fairhead’s Lear explores the physical conditions that precipitate the ageing king’s madness and the way in which he alienates daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia (Caroline Elms, Agnes Kenig, Marina Windsor). Throughout the piece, Shakespeare’s text is shown to be as beautiful as ever with a continuing relevance that in many ways serves to remind us that suffering is nothing new.