★★★ Intense, cathartic, but lacked a punch.
“But I am bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears do scald like moulten lead” – King Lear
The story, written by Shakespeare between 1604 and1606, depicts the tragedy of a family who lose trust, compassion, and all for the material gain of land. Those who are good of heart suffer the most and unspeakable tragedy befalls them. When Lear’s oldest two daughters plot to usurp him from his thrown, it is a wayward journey where no traveller returns.
Talawa Theatre Company and the Royal Exchange Theatre present a moment in theatre that is both harrowing and compelling. From powerful performances by Don Warrington (Lear), Philip Whitchurch (Earl of Gloucester), and Alfred Enoch (Edgar); to an ambitious set that delivered surprises and was thematic with the shape of a circle that glowed like a ‘wheel of fire.’
Don was very convincing as the King with strong tones of authority, madness, and sensitivity; the second half particularly, Don commanded with emotion and powerfully delivered ‘howl, howl, howl’ whilst carrying a dead Cordelia in his arms. Philip portrayed Gloucester with sincerity and truth, which made his tragic scene even more difficult to watch. His speeches and dialogue were very eloquent and combined with the emotion, galvanised the role to a very high standard. Alfred, who most will recognise from playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter franchise, gave an electric performance as Edgar/Poor Tom with physicality that was moving, edgy, and kept your eyes glued to the stage. The way in which he portrayed Poor Tom when he transitioned was fantastic in terms of the acrobatic movement and flair of speech delivery. It was a shame they cut Poor Tom’s speech about him becoming Poor Tom. It was also a pity that the Fool’s speech about the end of the world was cut, which would have contributed to the apocalyptic feel of King Lear. But then again, I am not sure Miltos Yerolemou (Fool) would have handled it as well as he did his comedy. His comedic timing was brilliant, but the scenes in the wilderness were a little lacklustre, in terms of line delivery and truth.
Though there were some great moments, there were others that took away from key scenes, and therefore spoiled the play overall. Unfortunately, Pepter Lunkese who played Cordelia was overly shout-y and whiny, and not much of her in the play, which made it hard for the audience to feel sad for her death at the end, even though Don’s lamentation was sublime.
The key disappointment for me was the ‘camp’ portrayal of Oswald. I thought we had come a long way since portraying characters as camp for the purpose of seeking a cheap laugh from the audience, or as a device for a character to come across evil. It was both offensive and shocking to see.
King Lear plays at the Birmingham Rep until 28th May