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 Woman In Mind by Masque Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I like Alan Ayckbourn, I may only have seen a few of his vast array of plays previously, but all have been a delight, often crazy yes, but constantly funny, and especially in the second act spiralling often into just on the very edge of believable nonsense. With Woman In Mind, acknowledged by many as one of his finest works, my own personal jury is very much out on whether I liked it or not.
What was very good, mostly, however, were the performances, most especially the two that we are introduced to at the very beginning. The prostrate Susan (Nicola Osborne), with sinisterly lurking rake alongside her, and the bag struggling doctor, Bill (John Myhill).
Nicola Osborne has the unenviable task in this play of never leaving the stage, a feat in itself. Add to this the constant weaving of the character's world (more on this later), and you have a role featuring some significant challenge, one that Osborne ably surmounts. I once described Osborne as a "safe pair of hands" in …

Press launch of Sting's The Last Ship at Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton

On Friday 16th February 2018, I attended the official press launch of The Last Ship. In attendance were the writer of the show, Sting, and cast members for the 2018 UK tour Richard Fleeshman, Charlie Hardwick and Joe McGann, with musical support from Rob Mathes.

During the event, opened entertainingly by producer Karl Sydow, Sting and the cast members performed seven of the songs from the show: The Last Ship (Sting), Dead Man's Boots (Sting and Fleeshman), Sail Away (Hardwick), The Night the Pugilist Learned to Dance (Fleeshman), What Say You Meg? (Fleeshman) and What Have You Got? (Sting and cast).

Each of these songs showed us a great background to the evocative tale that The Last Ship tells, of a community under attack as its crucial shipbuilding industry begins to fail. The performers and Sting himself delivered the songs with huge passion, despite, as Sting himself commented, the earnestness of the hour, with the event beginning at 10 am.

The Last Ship was initially inspired …

Review of Accused, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at St Peter's Church, Northampton

Going into seeing Accused, the first devised show by this years third year BA Actors graduates, I have to confess I shamefully knew nothing of its influence, Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol. However, it wasn't a great leap for me to identify that the piece gorgeously sung by the whole cast at the end of this really imaginative piece, was indeed part of the Ballad itself.

The Ballad it turns out, written by Wilde during exile following release from Reading tells of the execution of a man called Wooldridge, a man hung for cutting the throat of his wife. In Accused, we have another prisoner, destined to hang, but cleverly for what remains to its end, an unknown crime. It's bad, pretty bad, clear from the reaction of both prisoner and guards alike, and the Accused's life is generally in danger a great deal, long before the Executioner (played extremely nicely by Georgi McKie) comes to do her bidding.

Playing the Accused, and really rather brilliantly, is Alexande…