Review: King Lear

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The York Shakespeare Project’s latest production, that of the Bard of Stratford’s most notorious monarch, marches with growing confidence, with some enrapturing performances, but is marred by stutters early on. Kate Stephenson reviews:

Having thoroughly enjoyed previous productions from the York Shakespeare Project, I had high expectations for their latest offering, King Lear. Initial impressions were positive with a simple but appealing set and members of the cast interacting with the audience to create an immersive environment pre-show. This technique cleverly dealt with some of the gender-swapping in the performance and helped to address any confusion that this might cause.

A few first night jitters were evident early on and this slowed the pace of the show, but the entrance of Edmund and Emma brought a new energy to the stage and the production began to hit its stride. The decision to convert Edgar to Emma worked well, and Emily Thane excelled in the role, putting in an engaging and believable performance as the wronged elder sister. David Phillips as Edmund was clearly enjoying himself, relishing the language and building an easy rapport with the audience.

The production continued to build throughout the first half and by the second it was positively fizzing with a dramatic ebullience that was both joyful and, at times, devastating to watch.

Paul French as Lear took a little while to warm up, but once settled into the role he was very good, commanding the stage and giving a nuanced performance that was incredibly watchable particularly during his descent into madness, scenes to which he brought a great vigour and understanding. He was ably supported by Carrie Morrison as the fool who battled purposely with some difficult text to create a surprisingly touching and tender characterisation.

The production continued to build throughout the first half and by the second it was positively fizzing with a dramatic ebullience that was both joyful and, at times, devastating to watch. The blinding of Gloucester was toe-curlingly visceral, and the increasingly difficult relationship between sisters Goneril (Cindy Campbell) and Regan (Jennie Wogan) captured and held the attention until the very end. The cast were supported by an incredibly hardworking ensemble; of particular note was Sally Mitcham as Oswald who brought some delightful comic timing to the role.

At over three hours (including an interval) the production did feel a little long and could have, perhaps, benefitted from slightly more pruning, but overall King Lear was a slick, atmospheric and emotional performance which maintained the high standard I’ve come to expect from this group.

King Lear by William Shakespeare is performing at the John Cooper Studio Theatre (formerly Upstage Theatre) at 41 Monkgate, York till December 10th. Tickets available on the door and online (yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/event/king_lear.php).

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