'King Lear' to this day still compels and moves me and Shakespeare's text is poetic and haunting with many emotions. It is not one of my favourites of Shakespeare's plays, having more of a fondness of studying some of the others (such as 'Macbeth' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream') in school and it is not always easy getting behind Lear straight away (took time for me when studying it). Those being introduced to the play may be put off by him in the first act.
Saw this 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company production as somebody who has seen a lot of their productions streamed live and most now on DVD and has been impressed by quite a lot of them. Traditionalists may be put off by most being non-traditional (mostly this has actually worked well, though with exceptions such as 'The Merchant of Venice'). And also as somebody who likes Antony Sher, no stranger to Shakespeare and truly excellent at it, and what has been seen by other cast members. This 'King Lear' is not the best production seen by any stretch and could have seared more, but its superb performances absolutely makes it well worth watching.
Am going to get the not so good things out of the way first. The set and costume designs were not quite to my taste, the costumes tended to be too dreary ('King Lear' is far from a happy play but the costumes didn't have to have dreariness taken to extremes) and the sets too simple and not varied enough. The constant use of the gleaming copper disc sun and the branches amidst the sparse backdrop to me over-emphasises Lear's isolation and doom.
The staging does engage and is far from soulless, Gregory Doran does a great job in being diligent about letting the text really speak (which it does as it ought) and brings out the complexity of the characters very well. His direction however is not particularly innovative having said that, with not much that is insightful or unique, and at times in the second half it is a little on the subdued side.
However, there is a huge amount to like about this 'King Lear'. There are scenes that work very well, especially the storm scene (which thankfully does not look cheap and has creepiness),the crucial and intensely moving relationship between Lear and Cordelia and the truly harrowing without being gratuitous blinding of Gloucester. The sound isn't too overbearing and does have presence. The photography is suitably intimate yet expansive enough, the live streamings always did do brilliantly at capturing the authenticity of feeling like you are there in the auditorium itself.
What really makes the production worth a look is the acting, not a bad performance in the lot and the best performances are so good that the acting makes up more than one star of my rating. Sher is extraordinary as Lear, embodying every character trait so vividly. Appropriately making one feel frustration for him initially but rooting for him by the end. The other cast standouts are Paapa Essiedu's disdainful and sly Edmund and especially David Troughton's firey yet sincere Gloucester (the performance of the production for me actually),his rage is frightening but his downfall is done very movingly. Of the ladies, while Natalie Simpson is touching as Cordelia, while never being passive, Nia Gwynne's fierce Goneril is particularly good. Plus we have a Fool that actually isn't annoying or too much of a clown.
Concluding, casting wise the production is an absolute triumph, but it is also a production that would have benefitted a lot better with more appealing production values and more consistent distinction and ambition in the staging. 7/10
Royal Shakespeare Company: King Lear
Royal Shakespeare Company: King Lear
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King Lear has ruled for many years. As age begins to overtake him, he decides to divide his kingdom amongst his children, living out his days without the burden of power. A proud man, he allows vanity to cloud his judgment, believing that he can relinquish the crown, but enjoy the same authority and respect he has always known. Misjudging his children's loyalty he soon finds himself stripped of all the trappings of state, wealth and power he had taken for granted. Alone in the wilderness he is left to confront the mistakes of a life that has brought him to this point.
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