[Images courtesy of Northern Broadsides]
These days, theatrical performances are becoming more and more extravagant. It is commonplace to see spectacular scenery, special effects and pyrotechnics both on an amateur and professional level, which often overshadows the performances. So it was a breath of fresh air to see a minimal set of steel girders and a few wooden blocks laid out on a high levelled platform as the backdrop to King Lear.
The words and performance spoke for themselves.
The simplistic style continued throughout. The period dress production was intimate and thoroughly breathtaking. Barrie Rutter, Artistic Director of the Northern Broadsides, gave a quietly harrowing portrayal of an old man going mad. This most recent take on one of Shakespeare’s most classic characters was a huge risk, but director Jonathan Miller made it work. You could feel the audience’s collective empathy for the character, who stole my attention each time he was on stage. Every look and reaction was well thought through and there was not a glimmer of an expression that was out of character.
What struck me most was the purity and authenticity of Rutter’s performance. Rutter fully immersed himself in the role, and took on an ingenious portrayal of a man desperate for his daughter’s affection. When Cordelia refuses to overexaggerate her love for him, I actually felt hurt and sorry for him as you could tell King Lear did not understand what he’d done to cause Cordlia to hurt him in this way.
I have seen King Lear performed before, and believe it is unique for an audience to feel utter sympathy for Lear.
For those familiar with the Northern Broadsides’ work, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that the play was told in northern accents. The accessible, familiar accents really brought the play to life and certainly helped me to feel more connected to the play and the characters. As a true Northener, though, it was quite easy to spot an authentic accent from “Up North!”
Many of the parts come with almost all-consuming dark sides, so it was hard to sympathise with characters such as Goneril or Edmund. With this in mind, Jos Vantyler’s performance as Oswald gave some much welcomed light relief. The part allows for some camp comedy which was excellently taken advantage of. Vantyler’s comic timing was fantastic, and he was personally my favourite performance of the show (beside Barrie Rutter, of course!) Mention must also be given to Fine Time Fontayne who, besides having possibly the best name in show business, gave a brilliant performance as the insightful Fool.
Though keeping it simple was at the forefront of the agenda, a couple of modern perks added greatly to the performance to solve scenes with potential staging difficulties. The infamous eye-gouging was staged using bright lighting to show the actors in silhouette, thus covering any gore. The fight scene between Edmund and Edgar was done in slow motion, using flashes of strobe lighting and menacing music to add to the drama. Overall, the staging and direction was faultless, and kept in line with the simple, authentic tone to the whole performance.
There’s still plenty of time to catch King Lear, which is touring the UK until 13th June. Visit Northern Broadsides website for more information It’s an unmissable production!