Skip to main content

Review of King Lear (First preview) at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Review of first preview.

It is not quite the done thing to review a preview, however I do feel that as long as it is made absolutely clear and signposted (up there, look!), we can get away with it. It does help though if like King Lear, it already feels an incredibly polished affair.

Continuing the Royal & Derngate's busy Shakespeare 400th anniversary season, King Lear is an early twentieth century themed update on perhaps the Bard's greatest tragedy. Directed by Max Webster, who recently worked on the stunning and incredibly different The Lorax, this is at all times faithful but also suitably dynamic enough to work for a modern audience. Designer Adrian Linford has provided a visually simple set (never has the slope of the Royal looked more menacing) for the performance to play out on, allowing the actors to come to the front.

This is where the true brilliance of this production of King Lear is shown. Fourteen actors all virtually at the top of their game bring the constantly grim story to life. The three daughters played by Catherine Bailey (Goneril), Sally Scott (Regan) and Beth Cooke (Cordelia) are all excellent. I felt in particular that Cooke was exceptional as the frail looking yet immensely tough cast out daughter.

Also a delight and somehow triumphing over the slightly ridiculous conceit, was Tom McGovern's Kent. On his return to Lear, you could almost nearly believe he was a different person and try to bypass the crazy pretence in your mind. Joshua Elliott's Fool was very entertaining, although personally I did feel that a little more might have been made from this performance. Pip Donaghy's Gloucester really was very special and after his "incident", it becomes one of even more quality playing the role with a wonderful touch of dignity. An exceptional Gloucester.

However for all the exceptional talent on show, there is one defining performance that takes this to the top of class. Michael Pennington's Lear is a masterclass of acting. Guiding us gently from that initial scene with his daughters and the early trigger points of what is to come. All these played out so wonderfully subtle at first. By the time we reach that scene with the Fool "O fool, I shall go mad!", we have traveled a great distance with this living breathing Lear. I have now had the pleasure of seeing two quite amazing (and quite different) performances of Lear (the other by Simon Russell Beale) and this I feel felt more real due to the engineering of a slower transition to madness and also perfectly underplayed at times. Quite amazing.

There were a few issues as should be expected from a first performance, but they were so incredibly minor. For me some of the fight scenes did need a little bit of tidying up, with some feeling very loose. Ironically one between Edgar (Gavin Fowler) and Edmund (Scott Karim) was the complete opposite, that it was perhaps too full on, even resulting in a weapon of choice sliding from the stage, such was the rage. However for every tiny issue, there are bountiful moments of magic. The famous eye gouging scene was spectacularly realised on stage, much to the squirming of a few members of the audience. While the storm was perhaps one of the most incredibly effective moments I have seen on the Royal stage. Huge congratulations to all that made that moment so special.

So as a self confessed Shakespeare skeptic, but at turns a true fan of King Lear, this was a three hour delight of a show. Stunningly packed with an amazing cast and direction and tech suitably subtle when needed, this once again showcases the Made In Northampton brand quite spectacularly. This is going to pack them in as it travels around the country until July.

««««½


Performance reviewed FIRST PREVIEW: Friday 1st April, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.


King Lear runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 23rd April, 2016 before touring until July.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Comments

  1. With front-row seats for tonight's performance, Rosa and I will be hoping that no weapons of choice come our way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not pointy if it does, so you should be safe!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Balm in Gilead, University of Northampton BA Acting (Creative Acting) at Maidwell Hall, Northampton

Watching the production of Balm in Gilead sees my entering the fifth year of following the University of Northampton acting students, and what theatre they have provided over the years!

Balm in Gilead is no less intriguing than anything that has gone before, written in 1965 by Lanford Wilson, you might think this would be a dated item for the young students to be performing, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Set in a cafe (transposed to England from its original American setting), it sees the lives of addicts, homeless and sex workers converge into a mixture of good but mostly bad moments.
My first time in the Maidwell Hall saw an encounter with a brilliantly realised community full of the world of the cafe and the surrounding homes, cardboard boxes and dishevelled beds. As we enter the characters of this world begin living alongside us, addressing us, begging us for money, pushing shopping trolleys around offering off the cuff exchanges with the audience and confronti…

Review of This Evil Thing at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

This Evil Thing written and performed by Michael Mears isn't my first encounter with a play about conscientious objectors, however, it absolutely is the most detailed in its explanation of the subject. A clear and absolute labour of love from Michael Mears, and an obviously very personal thing for him, it leaves the audience pretty much in its grip for the whole of its 80 minutes.

Almost uniquely, our performer Michael Mears is in the theatre stalls upon entry, observing the arrival of the audience and indeed exchanging conversation at times. It's fascinating to see a performer not only there, but seemingly so relaxed pre-show and as he bounds on the stage at show start, this little nugget proves intriguing in itself.

Michael Mears is a captivating presence on stage, as previously experienced on the same stage in A Tale Of Two Cities and The Herbal Bed, therefore it comes as little surprise that he has a confident ability to make a one-man show work, and so well. With the use …

Review of Blood Brothers at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

A theatre in the east midlands, a thousand people stand applauding and cheering towards a stage where fourteen people stand. There on the stage, they bow, and bow, an inordinate number of times. They depart after a time and the lights come up over the capacity audience.

So did you hear the story of the Blood Brothers show, how people flocked and came to see them play?
Did you never hear about how we came to be, standing applauding the brightly lit stage this November day?
Come judge for yourselves how this night did come to be.

Blood Brothers was a significant show for me back in 2014, being the first musical that I saw live. Hiding up in the upper circle of the Derngate back then, not really sure what to expect, it was it turned out perhaps the perfect show to graduate me from play to musical that I could choose as Willy Russell's gritty and solid story is as confident as a straight play that perhaps any musical is. So strong is the story of the Johnstone's twins, that it liv…