King Lear

Article excerpt

King Lear

Presented by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London. April 23-August 17, 2008. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Designed by Jonathan Fensom. Music by Claire van Kampen. Choreography by Sian Williams. Fights by Renny Krupinski. With David Calder (King Lear), Sally Bretton (Goneril), Fraser James (Duke of Albany), Kellie Bright (Regan), Peter Hamilton Dyer (Duke of Cornwall), Jodie McNee (Cordelia), Danny Lee Wynter (Lear's Fool), Kevork Malikyan (Lear's Knight), Paul Copley (Earl of Kent), Joseph Mydell (Earl of Gloucester), Trystan Gravelle (Edgar), Daniel Hawksford (Edmund), Paul Lloyd (Old Man, Doctor, Bedlamite, Knight, Soldier), Kurt Egyiawan (Curran, Bedlamite, Knight, Soldier), Ashley Rolfe (Oswald), Beru Tessema (King of France, Bedlamite, Knight, Soldier), Ben Bishop (Duke of Burgundy, Bedlamite, Knight, Soldier), Pamela Hay (Ballad Singer), Michael Jarvis, Ben Lee, Richard Marshall, and Fabian Spencer (Bedlamites, Knights, Soldiers).

The stage at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was almost entirely bare as the audience entered for Dominic Dromgoole's production of King Lear. Four red wooden panels, each about eight feet tall, which slid across the stage into various configurations during the performance, stood toward the back of the stage, one just behind the right pillar, the other three near the back wall. A garland of ivy, which Lear's riotous, brawling knights would later pull down as they left Goneril's castle in 1.2, ran onto the stage from the tops of two poles at opposite sides of the yard and then continued along the rail of the balcony and down each side of the center door. An octagonal platform, which looked like a large drum, extended the center of the stage farther out into the yard and, with five steps on each side, allowed exits and entrances through it. As the musicians on the stage brought their drumming to an abrupt end, the actors entered, and (without the opening lines of Kent, Gloucester, and Edmund) Lear, taking Goneril by the hand and swirling her to center stage, began the play.

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The production, which cut speeches and overlapped scenes, moved quickly, running (with the interval) three hours and ten minutes. (Gloucester's stark articulation of his existential courage, "if I die for it, as no less is threatened me, the king, my old master, must be relieved," was unfortunately among the lines lost.) An essay in the program by Nell Rhodes ("Objects of Fear and Charity") proposed that "homelessness is at the heart of King Lear and it was a highly visible problem in Shakespeare's time." The production made that socio-political dimension of the play more prominent with the appearance on the stage of the "houseless poverty" Lear remembers in his prayer on the heath. In the first storm scene (3.1), for example, which was created manually with a drum, a wind machine, and a metal sheet, these "bedlamites," as the program called them, entered the yard and (as Edgar had in 2.3) climbed the poles to the left and right of the stage. At the beginning of the trial scene (3.6), they were sleeping at the back of the stage, only to be awakened and frightened away by the mad King. They appeared again during the scene between Kent and the gentlemen (4.3).

Although the production for the most avoided the characteristic interplay between actors and audience at the Globe, it did from time to time draw the audience more closely into the action. Edmund directed his questions about which sister he should take to one of the groundlings, evoking laughter in the audience. Later, at the blinding of Gloucester, Regan kissed Cornwall passionately after he had positioned a chair for Gloucester up center, and Cornwall, after violently ripping out the first eye, tossed something wet and slimy out into the yard. Regan then sat on Gloucester's lap and, with Cornwall behind her, his hand on her buttocks, tore out the second eye. Covered with blood, she stood up, kissed her wounded husband again, and then helped him off the stage. …