At the risk of sounding ageist, an
immediate concern with any student theatre company taking on Shakespeare’s
tragedy of tragedies,
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.