Monday, 12 May 2008

REVIEW: "King Lear"

“I was young and foolish then.
I feel old and foolish now.”
--They Might Be Giants

Springtime in England means pleasantly warm, breezy days, cricket matches, and for the artistic, a new season at Shakespeare’s Globe. Part legit theatre with a focus on both new writing and the classics, part tourist attraction, and part educational outreach, the Globe has faced its fair share of controversy from the artistic press in the past.

That said, the only controversy surrounding this year’s season opener, King Lear, is the Globe’s choice to promote it as “Shakespeare’s Greatest Tragedy.” Is it because Hamlet or Macbeth are greater?


It’s because the Globe’s Lear is pretty damn funny. Lines are played to the maximum comedic effect (gaining a response from the audience), undermining the tragic path of the title character and those surrounding him. Despite the high body count, it’s easier to laugh at the lines about the difficulties of marriage and Edmund’s dilemma of engaging Goneril and Regan at the same time than to get through the detached veneer director (and artistic director) Dominic Dromgoole has hidden the text behind. The RZ wonders if he would have cared or felt anything when Lear loses Cordelia if the aforementioned tonal issues, well, weren’t. Had the comedy been cut back after the interval, the shift would have gone a long way towards reminding the audience that this isn’t a happy play, even if the characters (including the dead) get up and dance during the curtain call. Instead, the whole thing plays out as a nasty episode of Footballer’s Wives.

Combine this with Trystan Gravelle (Edgar) and Daniel Hawksford (Edmond) blowing through no less than seven accents each, one can easily see what the RZ thinks of how this production was staged. As it stands, he’s still not sure if Gloucester’s sons are Welsh, Scottish, or even from Gloucester. All he knew was that Edmond must be the villain as he had the most attractive costume (as villains are wont to do - evil comes with style.)

David Calder is a cuddly Lear, though he mumbles his way through the first act and was overpowered by a chorus of drums and rain sticks during the storm scene. Joseph Mydell is far more regal is Gloucester, and Paul Copley is a wonderfully crotchety Kent. The RZ suspects, however, that Pamela Hay got lost on her way to Lord of the Rings, as she stands above the action moaning and wailing out ballads in Middle English like a cat whose tail is being slowly cut open.

This isn’t to say that this Lear doesn’t feature some successful moments, as it does, but the Globe’s production is by no means the tear-jerker that it claims to be.

Where: Shakespeare’s Globe
When: In repertoire until 17 August. Performances at 14:00 and 19:30, check the website for booking days and details.
How Much: £5-£33
Concessions: None.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5. The RZ is not a Shakespeare fan and got more entertainment out of watching planes fly by, monitoring the audience, and enjoying a spring evening outside than from the actual play.
RZ Other Notes: Standing in the yard at the Globe is fun, and it’s easy to bring in your own snacks/drinks. Patrons should definitely bring water, especially on warm and humid days. Patrons in the yard can come and go as they please to use the loo, get drinks, sit on the benches overlooking the Thames, etc. The full runtime is 185 min. including the interval after act three. While the RZ isn’t enamoured by the play, he found the first half mostly interesting, though found himself bored quickly by acts four and five. Anybody who says Shakespeare doesn’t need a dramaturge is lying.

1 comment:

michael said...


Just found your blog today, and as an American who just returned home from a theatre journey to London, I've found a lot of your reviews interesting. Having directed Lear in the past I have to agree that turning it into a comedy is... well, a tragedy.

The shows in Rep at the Globe right now are wonderful though. You should definitely give them another try. "As You Like It" was a great afternoon of theatre. Jacquez and touchstone steal the show, but that's absolutely fine with me. I reccomend this show on this thread because I've always looked at "AYLI" as the comedy version of "King Lear". An exiled king, brothers fighting for power, disguised exilees, and foul weather.

Give it a chance if you haven't already.