RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran directs Antony Sher in one of the greatest parts ever written by Shakespeare.
Thursday 10 November 2016 - Wednesday 23 November 2016, Barbican
Review by Dan Rubins, MA Shakespeare Studies
Masses shivering outside of Lear’s castle instantly summons to mind the present-day global crises facing refugees - Dan Rubins, MA Shakespeare Studies
The stage of Gregory Doran’s production of King Lear teems with the homeless of Lear’s kingdom. Doran’s opening image of huddled masses shivering outside of Lear’s castle instantly summons to mind the present-day global crises facing refugees. When Lear, having taken cover from his famous storm in a hovel (here, some sort of homeless shelter), reflects that he has “ta’en too little care” of the “poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,” the issue has never seemed so pressing or central as in this staging. As compelling as those contemporary resonances might be, these poor folk essentially vanish after the interval. They are, ultimately, indicative of the sweeping but vague approach to the text that Doran takes throughout this production.
Stubborn attempts to make Goneril and Regan (Nia Gwynne and Kelly Williams) sympathetic, for example, by highlighting their apparent closeness with Cordelia (Natalie Simpson) and the coarse behavior of Lear’s knights, fail to hold much weight after the viciously bloody blinding of the Earl of Gloucester (David Troughton) which arrives directly after the interval. (That scene also takes place in what appears to be a transparent lift, seemingly at odds with the somewhat medieval atmosphere evoked by the rest of the set.) Nor does the opening entrance of a tyrannical Lear (Antony Sher) in a large glass cube, atop which he remains, immobile, for the entire first scene, provide more than momentary dramatic effect since the next scene shows him gallivanting comfortably with his horde of followers.
The play’s subplot surrounding Gloucester and his two sons registers in this production as far more rich and harrowing than does the central story. - Dan Rubins, MA Shakespeare Studies
Unusually, the play’s subplot surrounding Gloucester and his two sons registers in this production as far more rich and harrowing than does the central story. Paapa Essiedu’s comically awkward Edmund morphs convincingly as the treacherous snake within rises to the surface. Oliver Johnstone, as Edgar, makes a moving Prince Hal-like transition from carefree adolescence to sober-eyed maturity. A surprising, new moment in which the blind Gloucester recognizes the texture of Edgar’s face comes closest to the pathos that the Lear plotline too often lacks.
Still, despite being at times bogged down by Doran’s murky vision and the lack of chemistry with Simpson and Graham Turner’s bawdy Fool, Sher manages to create a Lear whose potential for tenderness shines through his magisterial gruffness. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the touching scene which Sher and Troughton share late in the second half of the play. Lear’s fragile, tentative movements in and out of madness allow the audience to see the shadow of a king who might have, at one point, had the makings of a kind, even benevolent, leader, if he had only avoided giving into delusions of grandeur. Such moments suggest that, beneath the pomp and circumstance, this production, like its title character, has the potential for the honesty and clarity that never quite come to light.