King Lear at the Royal Exchange
Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary year has seen a surge in popularity for King Lear with performances springing up up and down the country. It’s a testament to the Bard that his scripts are still so relevant today and clear to see why Lear is proving first choice for so many. With a rise against corrupt politics and headlines of Scotland’s division from GB and GB from Europe, King Lear’s bemusement and rapid onset of old age reflects how a lot of the country feels about the current state of political affairs.
Michael Buffong’s production, a collaboration between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre Company, brings a predominantly black cast to the Royal Exchange after a hugely successful run of All My Sons in 2013. Don Warrington undertakes the heavy crown of Lear and delivers as the imposing cantankerous ruler losing control of his kingdom.
It is a well-balanced production though, Miltos Yerolemou's fool toes the line between comedy and heartbreak with brilliance, reflecting the audience’s emotions at the unfolding devastation whilst providing much-needed comic relief through the near four-hour show.
Alfred Enoch (Hi there, Harry Potter fans) as Poor Tom/Edgar was key to the balance of the performance portraying humanity and ultimately good outing evil- For Edgar anyway- Cordelia of course embodies this, but as is the theme of the good kid getting wrongly banished, we lose her at the end of the play, Lear’s last nail in the coffin. Their purity is one of the only brighter concepts King Lear offers us though, magnified by the rugged war-like sounds of thunder and drums, costumes of fur-capes and swords. The stage was rough and earthy, in the round so the audience was immersed into their medieval world as though we too were lost and wandering the moors.
My personal highlight has to be the Heath in the Storm scene, pivotal of course to Lear’s ultimate breakdown where, as front seat-ers, we truly were immersed when the heavens opened and it began to rain inside the theatre from precisely set up sprinklers on the ceiling. It was such impressive stage production that I was wholly distracted from the text for a moment coupled with the fact that I got a little damp, but my sheer admiration at the sky opening up inside won out.
Another key moment for me as a lover of all things gory, was Gloucester having his eyes ripped out with Cornwall’s bare hands. It was brutally done, as it should be, with some audible giggles and shudders from the audience as red jelly is gesticulated about the stage, one little boy opposite I thought might actually have to leave from the shock.
King Lear at the Royal Exchange runs until early May, but if you haven’t managed to get tickets will also be showing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre 19th-28th May.