Magazine article The Spectator

Postprandial Nightmare

Magazine article The Spectator

Postprandial Nightmare

Article excerpt

Theatre 2

King Lear

(Swan Theatre, Stratford)

Although no one would pretend that youthful players could ever be a `cast of choice' for Lear, the actors of the RSC's fledgling Academy have one advantage over riper colleagues. Relatively unphased by this awesome text, they're able to speak what they feel, `not what we ought to say'. This is the debut production by the Academy whose 16 actors graduated from their drama schools earlier this year. Their RSC syllabus has been ten weeks' rehearsal under Declan Donellan.

This new Lear is certainly a far more worthwhile enterprise than the RSC's previous effort, born of an ill-advised flirtation with the Japanese director Ninogawa in which the valiant Nigel Hawthorn was distinctly ill-at-ease in the title role - not that any actor could exactly be comfortable in the part. At home, maybe, and this well describes the Academy's Lear, Nonso Anozie, who is the solid rock on which the production is built.

Abdication speeches are perhaps not generally sprung after everyone's had a good time at dinner, but this is how Donellan launches the play. He sets it up as a postprandial nightmare, a party that goes wrong and just keeps getting worse and worse. Lear and his courtiers are in white and black tie respectively, which is pretty well how things remain right through the storm and until Lear, now in bedraggled white shirt, bursts in after Gloucester's thwarted leap from Dover cliff. The milieu is that of a black cabaret, with the Fool making his entry as a television compare in glitzy jacket and frilly-fronted shirt.

Lear's auctioning off of his kingdom in the `how much d'y love meT competition is virtually treated as a game-show, inspiring mirth and applause from the contestants' spouses, Albany and Cornwall. Goneril and Regan wrestle with contestants' nerves. No wonder that their younger sister is speechless with embarrassment, Cordelia (Kirsty Besterman) barely containing her anger at her father's insistence on this public show of private family matters. A couple of scenes later, there's a brilliant ploy when Lear enthrones himself on Goneril's diningroom table and addresses his hostile hosts through Edward Hogg's excellent Fool, now seated on his knee like a ventriloquist's dummy with a ghastly grin and mechanical laugh: `Why, this is not Lear. Does Lear walk thus, speak thus? ... Who is it that can tell me who I am?'

A further twist is that Kent disguises himself not as the usual servant or rough soldier but as a supernumerary tap-dancing Fool, replete with rats-tails' wig and scarlet bow-tie. …

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