at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Wednesday 16th March 2011
One would expect that after a year of performances a production would generally improve somewhat. We imagine performances have time to mature and problems are ironed out. It is a shame, therefore, that David Farr’s production of King Lear still remains somewhat stale, even though it has gained an extra dynamic in its transfer from the Courtyard to the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
It is an interpretation which never really made much sense; this is an Albion which has “come to great confusion”, with an array of costumes from various period sitting among furniture from various periods lit with everything from strip-lights to flaming torches. This is ostensibly a world which cannot understand itself, but rather than heightening an understanding of the text, it seems at time to detract from it, as we wonder what the characters’ motivations are in this mixed-up kingdom. It just doesn’t compute.
That said, however, in true David Farr style, it does manage to show a state in the middle of collapse. The final moments of the first half show are some of the most impressive, and the storm scene is striking. This is mirrored by the littering of bodies across the stage as the performance ends, showing that as soon as an infrastructure is destroyed, the lives of people will follow not long after. Jon Bausor’s set shows a state in decay and is lit superbly by Jon Clark. Keith Clouston and Christopher Shutt’s music and sound also show discordance, but here is the issue; Farr’s interpretation never shows enough coherence for us ever to become engaged.
This isn’t helped by the ensemble’s performances, which, although strong, never truly excel. Tunji Kasim’s Edmund is nothing short of a wet flannel and Sophie Russell’s Fool is dogged by the ghost of Kathryn Hunter. Greg Hicks is technically strong in the title role, but fails to emote and show his normally impressive range. I still hold that he is ten years too young for Lear, especially in the light of Jacobi’s recent showing. Katy Stephens as Regan offers some redemption, as does Darrell D’Silva in the role of Kent, but the actors across the board seem to be as confused by the on stage world as we do.
This isn’t a bad production, but one which never really lives up to its potential. A strong company of actors is never truly stretched and a stunning design team seem to be steered in the wrong direction. The new RST shows itself to be impressive, however, proving to have perfect clarity and injecting energy onto the thrust stage from the audience, but this is not in itself enough to save the show. Granted, Farr’s production has justification in the text, and a world with no cohesive elements does make sense, but without sign-posting it is hard to care. As a consequence, actors, direction and audience all become as confused as each other.