King Lear by William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Theatre Royal Bath Productions

Theatre Royal Bath

Tues 30 July 2013

After reading several very positive and amazing reviews of King Lear it was with excitement and anticipation that I went to the Theatre Royal on Tuesday evening. It is a shame that the production fell short on so many levels.

The stage is set simply with several large white gauzes, pre-set with quite stunning projections of a pub on them. The madness of the opening scene that follows suits the pub setting perfectly, that is until the projected glass shatters and unfortunately cheapens what has been achieved. After that the production seemingly goes down hill at speed with little hope of recovery.

The show programme draws reference to the Krays and London’s East End in the 1960s and I just wish the projections mirrored this. What we end up with is a production that is more Tarantino and set in New York than London’s East End which is not helped by the intermittent London accents of the cast.

The simulated gay sex in the phone box did nothing to really help us see the inner-torment of Edmunds’s character and was not referenced again in the production and seemed to be there merely as a device to shock rather than to help the story along.

It was nice to see the bareness and starkness of the Theatre Royal stage later in the second act. This was lit beautifully and gave us a much needed break from the projections which became more and more of a distraction and hindrance.

There was much anticipation in the build up to the ensuing battle but again this was a disappointment and was over so quickly that if you had blinked you would have missed it. Couple this with some badly performed fight choreography which looked sloppy, slow and unrealistic and in no way suited the aggression of characters on stage. It is a real shame, as the earlier eye gouges were carried out incredibly well and were gruesomely effective. The battle sequence wasn’t helped by the odd percussive music which abruptly panned from left to right and didn’t suit the mood of the battle particularly well.

At random moments, reverb was used on a few of the characters voices to create an echo which felt weird and out of place – especially when they were outside behind a chain link fence. There were some nice low drones which added to the tension in the lead up to the battle however.

David Haig, who played Lear, showed the journey of his character as well as the constraints of the production allowed him. It would have been nice to have seen a little more light, shade and texture during some of the angry and mad moments.

Goneril (Aislin McGuckin) and Regan (Fiona Glasscott), unfortunately blurred into one. Their accents (which slipped in and out) poor diction and projection made it difficult to actually hear what they were saying. With something as wordy as Shakespeare being able to hear the dialogue is important if you are to have half a chance of following the story.

Overall, I was disappointed with this production and felt that too much emphasis was put on the technology and showing what could be done and not enough on the text. I do appreciate, however that there were members of the audience that loved it (some standing up and clapping at the end). It is a Marmite show. You’ll either love it or you will hate it. Either way it is worth seeing as it will definitely get you talking and discussing it for hours afterwards.

2 stars out of 5