Peter Kay (The Lowry, 9th April 2010)

I’ll just say that this is the review that doesn’t review – review.   The reason is that as we queue for unreserved seating for the Peter Kay warm up gig at The Lowry, we are faced with notices making it clear we shouldn’t record anything.  We would be monitored to make sure that we don’t take photographs or video the show, the notices declared.  It seemed to me that pen and paper and human memory are just as useful recording devices, but not mentioned in the list of forbidden actions.   However, I got the message, it would not be a good idea to include spoilers in my blog before Kay’s big stadium tour, or as it is called ‘The Tour That doesn’t Tour- Tour’.

The Lowry studio space is for about 130 people and I managed to get a seat on the front row.  This meant I was very close and it all felt very intimate.  It was odd listening to Kay through his  microphone, when I was close enough to hear him if he’d whispered to me.  Though the space was much smaller than the Manchester Evening News Arena where most of the ‘tour’ takes place,  the atmosphere was still fantastic and there was lots of laughter.  I’m sure the tour won’t disappoint those with tickets for the arena.  Kay has an eye and ear for the everyday.  He picks up conversations, the way members of families react interact.  It felt at time, that he must have lived in my house and observed the things we did and said.  At times I was taken back to my childhood and I can realised many of my memories were shared by Kay and it seemed the rest of the audience.  I suppose Kay’s style draws specifically on a Northern humour, and his Bolton roots are extremely important.  In his routine there are some of the familiar characters, such as Uncle Knob Head, but this is a new routine, beautifully timed and brilliantly delivered.

Doctor Who 'The Eleventh Hour' 5.1 (3rd April 2010, BBC 1)

A Serpent, an apple and a garden. With the new Doctor Who series we are on familiar story-telling territory, but with an electrifying and stimulating twist.

In ‘Blink’ (3.10) Steve Moffat utilises the horror genre beautifully, as the rain is pouring down and a young woman (Sally Sparrow) enters a deserted house. In the ‘Eleventh Hour’, Moffat again builds on the audience familiarity with certain narrative tropes to great effect. At the start of the programme the Doctor in his TARDIS whirls over London and a shot of the Millenium Dome from the air is a reminder of the Eastenders opening titles, but London is passed over and the TARDIS falls into a typical English Countryside scene. Here there is a local post office (which is closed), a Duck Pond and a Village Green, a pub and a red telephone box. There is even an old lady (Annette Crosbie) living in an a pretty cottage. The Doctor seems to have landed in the landscape of a murder mystery, which is more like Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders than the landscapes of the Bill and the Sweeney familiar in the Russell T Davies era.

In the episode there was a nice balance of humour and moments that made hearts skip beats. 20 minutes to save the world is cliché and the countdown to 0 on all clocks reminds us of all those moments in films when the hero saves us all and just in time. This didn’t really matter though, because the monster was really a sub plot to the main plot which was about introducing the viewers to the new Doctor and companion. I felt that the episode was about the imagination, and the childhood world that actually come alive in adulthood. The idea that the simple crack in the child’s bedroom wall conceals secrets and monsters was played out to great effect in this episode. I liked the juxtaposition between the Doctor and Prisoner Zero as they are still both evolving into what they should be, Prisoner Zero getting the voices wrong and the Doctor is still ‘cooking’. The putting on the clothes was symbolic. Once Matt Smith had his tweeds and bow tie he ws the Doctor and that montage of the previous Doctors confirmed the Eleventh Doctor as here. Gone was the idea that the regeneration as a death and the emotional pull of the tenth Doctor’s last line, ‘I don’t want to go’. As the Doctor left the garden and entered the TARDIS, this was just the beginning.

King Lear (RSC, The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 1st March 2010)

In the episode ‘George’s Last Ride’ from the seminal television drama Boys from the Blackstuff, Chrissy (Michael Angelis) pushes George (Peter Kerrigan) in his wheelchair through the derelict landscape of the industrial dock area of Liverpool. The predominance of greys in the scene create a sense of despair and pessimism. As Chrissy helps George stand for the last time, George declares, “I can’t believe that there is no hope. I can’t”. In watching David Farr’s King Lear, I was reminded of George, a man driven to the absolute edge of despair, and a society which has crumbled around him.

As the audience enter the dark auditorium at the Courtyard Theatre for the Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear, they hear the clanging and banging in the background of machinery at work. The set has an industrial feel as if it had been situated inside an old deserted factory. High up are broken windows with the sun streaking through the dirt engrained on the glass. There’s a bell and a pulley prominently placed. Edgar (Charles Aitkin) sits on the stage staring outwards in stunned horror.

Like his design for last season’s The Winter’s Tale, Jon Bauber’s set for this production is another set which disintegrates around us, but unlike the The Winter’s Tale set, it is fragmented and shattered to start with. Throughout the production, the lights fizz and crackle as if an insect has flown into them. The sound is sometimes like that moment when the strip lighting flickers as it struggles to power on. Edmund (Tunjim Kasim) seems able to control the lights, as did Feste in Greg Doran’s production of Twelfth Night, but this is not for humorous effect, it is rather sinister. In the storm scene, Lear stands centre stage water streams down over (and under) him and as the winds blow the set crashes around him.

David Farr’s production merges different periods in time. Lear and Kent are presented as medieval knights, and in contrast the Gloucester family are in Edwardian dress. I wasn’t clear why this was, but it made me think about possible reasons for this creative decision. Is it to suggest that King Lear deals with a sweep of British history? Are we being asked to comment on the relationship between the two periods depicted through costume? Possibly the set has been designed to make us think about the decline of the industrial revolution and that we are hurtling towards the first world war. I wondered if we were meant to think that the Gloucester family are the intellects and Lear is the warrior. I felt these shifts in time were very in keeping to the RSC current approach in setting productions in no particular time or place such as the current RSC’s As You Like It that moves through time ending up in the contemporary dress. I really like the experiments with time and setting, because it moves beyond those attempts to make comparisons between Shakespeare’s plays and specific historical moments without being clumsy about the idea of the plays being universal.

What I found interesting about this production was that there were set pieces that looked like images captured in paintings, such as the way the court organised themselves for Lear’s entrance at the beginning of the play. There was a series of repeated images as well. One of them is the image of the three sisters on stage. In the first scene, Goneril and Regan kneel and Cordelia is still stood on her soap box as if she has been placed on a pedestal and bathed in light. Towards the end of the play the three sisters find themselves on stage at the same time reminding me of the moment Cordelia responds to Lear with her ‘nothing’.

Hicks’ plays Lear with a sense of humour in parts. In the first scene he wrong foots the court who are all lined up expecting him to enter centre stage, and he enters from the vomitorium cackling with glee. At moments he mimics age, which has some irony as this is what he is to become so soon. It must be be exhausting, playing all Lear’s moods. Hicks is able to play the transition from warrior to fragile old man brilliantly. His Lear is petulant and boisterous. He abuses his power, and it is as if as King he thinks he can do anything he likes. As I was watching Greg Hicks as Lear, I couldn’t help making connections between his portrayal of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale and his King Lear. In this production Kelly Hunter’s Goneril stares with stunned shock at Lear as if she can’t believe how far he will go. It was the kind of reaction that Hermione has when watching Leontes rage in his jealousy. Both plays have worlds which are turned upside down and daughters are banished into wilderness. I like the ways Hicks uses the physical body to reflect his emotional strain. As Hicks transforms into a crumpled old man, I was reminded of the image int he second half of The Winter’s Tale, when the scene returns to Sicilia and Leontes is sat in the dark at the back of the stage.

There are some stunning performances in this production. Katy Stephens and Kelly Hunter as Regan and Goneril were both thoughtful and powerful portrayals of the two sisters. Darrell D’Silva’s Kent was spectacular. He is an energetic Kent fighting for his friend and was a lovely contrast to Gloucester. The performance which has stuck in my mind is Kathryn Hunter’s Fool is a curious piece of work. She plays the role as a vulnerable child, and she plays the role as androgynous. This boy/woman Fool just can’t stop himself from speaking, as if lacking any control over his actions. The Fool pulls Lear’s hand from the fire, but just can’t seem to bring himself to take Lear away as if the obvious isn’t possible for him. I thought Kathryn Hunter’s expressions were wonderful and beguiling. It is an enormously poignant moment when the Fool hesitates and does not follow Lear. I felt that was a significant moment in this production in that Lear was truly alone without any followers at all.

Yes, this production is a little eclectic, but I found a lot in it to think about.

Reviews and Previews…
King Lear in the Independent on Sunday
King Lear in The Evening Standard
WOS RSC King Lear
The Times review of King Lear
The Financial Times on RSC King Lear
King Lear in The Telegraph
Daily Mail on RSC King Lear
London Assurance and King Lear in IOS
Oxford Times on RSC King Lear
The Stage on RSC King Lear