Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 21st March 2019
“the Ed Miliband of Shakespeare: reliable, dependable, with the right words in the correct order but lacking that sense of purpose or timeliness”
I understand why people want to put on Shakespeare. It’s deep, people want to watch it, and it’s royalty free. What more could you want? But Shakespeare isn’t impressive like surgery is, it’s impressive like running a marathon is. Now, everyone has seen a marathon and if you want to make a statement you either need to do it exceptionally well, or you need to dress up as a Rhino and deliver your message.
And if putting on a Shakespeare isn’t like running a marathon, then it’s really like trying to be prime minister or a member of parliament. I want to know ‘why you?’ What does the version of Lear say different from the last? What extra insight do you have into our contemporary world? What do you believe in? This production of King Lear was the Ed Miliband of Shakespeare: reliable, dependable, with the right words in the correct order but lacking that sense of purpose or timeliness.
James Eley’s production at the impressive Jack Studio Theatre isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The cuts to the script are sensible; the performances are credible, and the production tells the story. But this is all cone and no ice cream. It leaves an audience member wanting more and with their attention free to focus on minor defects of pace and accent. You will be sure you saw King Lear but not sure why.
Themes were suggested and hinted but never committed to. In the beginning, the play seemed to be set in a series of pubs with Lear and his daughters as landlords, and club owners waging a turf war. But then the ‘fool’ was more Commedia dell’arte, the fighting Tarantino and the soundtrack part classical and part brit pop. Edmund became Ada with lesbian relations, but nothing came of it. All good ideas but the question ‘why’ just swirls and swirls.
Lear isn’t a simple production, and between disguises and actors playing many parts, it’s easy to get lost. Our players did a reasonable job of telling the story and keeping it clear, although occasionally we got lost with some scenes delivered like the actors quickly needed to get to the end. The experience of Christopher Poke (Glouster) and Alan Booty (Lear) did shine as they slowed down and gave some timing to the scenes.
Ultimately this is not a bad show. Lear is long and challenging and complex and just getting through it is often enough as the text does so much. If you like Shakespeare then this is worth a shake. But if you’ve read King Lear, you know the rough story, and you’re looking for more then you might be disappointed. In the end, just like a politician, I would prefer a flawed play with something to say, rather than a polished production saying everything all at once.
Reviewed by William Nash
Photography courtesy Yard Players
Jack Studio Theatre until 30th March
Previously reviewed at this venue: