Theatre Review: King Lear – RSC – Courtyard Theatre

All Kings need a fool, and in Kathryn Hunter, David Farr has found a fool for all time. Male and yet female, old and yet young, quirky but classically turned out – complete with jester's hat. A fool's fool. A fool of a fool. A fabulous fool. And with her rickett-riddled form, she neatly couples up with Greg Hicks as a raggedly robed King Lear to create a visually stunning rain soaked duo on the drenched heath of Shakespeare's tragedy.

This is a sensuously rich production where sound, lighting and design combine to evoke the dark world of truth, lies, deceit and disguise. A set that revels in its grunge as it changes from earthy shabbiness to industrial harshness and decay.

Evocative crackling lighting and sharply defined sounds that matches the words, the speeches, the mood and the ebb and flow of the story, so precisely. This is a magnificent all round production.

To contrast the old and the new, the past and the future, King Lear's contemporaries were dressed in early medieval garb of a mythical Albion, while the inheritors were clothed in early 20th century costumes ready for trench warfare or Edwardian drawing rooms. The three sisters wore medieval inspired romantic evening gowns that blended with both eras.

A King Lear that reached the heights of self-loathing and the depths of base bile and vivid vindictiveness with a breath-taking range.

Greg Hicks' fluent and emotive voice dominated the auditorium. A King Lear that reached the heights of self-loathing and the depths of base bile and vivid vindictiveness with a breath-taking range. Charles Aitken as Edgar transformed from jaunty jovial innocent to neo-naked Old Testament nakedness as Poor Tom. Gloucester (Geoffrey Freshwater) also seized attention in his vicious treatment at the hands of the sadistic Cornwall (Clarence Smith) and Goneril (Kelly Hunter) and his search for blind redemption on the cliffs of Dover.

Katy Stephens as Regan and Kelly Hunter as the ungrateful sisters established their characters with fearful clarity and an easy evil elegance. Their younger sister, the truthful Cordelia whose refusal to flatter her father leads to the earth shattering fall-out was given a righteous dimension in her final scenes of battle and capture.

Here was a cast that told their stories with clarity – an ideal production for students and seasoned fans alike. From Hunter's flipparty fool to the vocally muscular Darrell D'Silva as Kent, each actor played their part in this most epic and most complex of tragedies. A story well-told.

King Lear (RSC)
Courtyard Theatre

Runs until 26 August
Reviewer: Rupert Bridgwater
3rd March 2010

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