On Kathryn Hunter leaving the RSC ensemble

I was really sorry to hear that Kathryn Hunter had resigned from the RSC midway through the Roundhouse run. I realise that she had not had some good reviews with some reviews being really cutting, but I had thought that her work with the current RSC ensemble had been really thought provoking. Her two performances as the Fool and as Cleopatra stayed with me and made me think much more about the text in ways I hadn’t before seeing the productions. After seeing the production of Antony and Cleopatra for the first time, I wasn’t sure how to respond to the production, but I think that was what I really liked about it in the end was that sense of not being able to draw conclusions and continuing to think about what I’d seen.  What was really great about Hunter’s portrayal of Cleopatra was that she played against type and this worked really well for me. What came across in Hunter’s portrayal was the way she brought out Cleopatra’s manipulative streak, her power as a female ruler and  played on the way she constantly changed her mind. As Lear’s Fool, she brought out the childlike side of the character to great effect. It felt like I was watching the child staying a Lear’s side as long as possible, and in despair seeing the person s/he loved breaking down.

When I saw King Lear at the Roundhouse a week ago, I thought that Sophie Russell did a decent job as the Fool, but just doesn’t have that ability to suddenly appear and take over the stage in the way that Hunter did.  I am looking forward to seeing Katy Stephens as Cleopatra again, after seeing her in Newcastle having to go on stage at very short notice, and it will be interesting to see how she makes the part her own after having the chance to rehearse.

My Review of  RSC King Lear

My review of RSC Antony and Cleopatra

King Lear (Donmar Warehouse, 11th December 2010)

As we climbed the stairs up to the Circle at the Donmar, we could feel the heat hit us the higher we went.  Wearing several layers of clothes because of the cold weather outside, it was clear that we were going to be hot through the production.  It was very strange watching King Lear feeling so hot on a cold winter’s day.  Sat right at the back of the circle, I felt at a distance from the production, even though the Donmar is such an intimate space.  How you feel, and where you view the production from, has an impact on how you experience it. I think being hot and high up made me think of the performances in a way I might not have if I’d been in the stalls.
The focus was on the language of the characters and not on clever stage devices.  I liked the way that the production was well paced and only three hours long.  I also liked the white cube minimal set design, as it seemed to emphasise the bleakness, but it also gives space for the language to create the sense of place.  The black shadows on the stage walls were like the carrion on the publicity material, which was a nice effect.  There was also some very clear verse speaking from some of the lead characters.  Indeed, all the reviews say that  this production is a great production, and Michael Billington said that Jacobi was one of the great  Lears of all time.  I would say that Jacobi’s central performance was very good indeed.  Overall the production just  didn’t take my breath away. Some performances stood out such as Gina McKee who was a good Goneril, but without the temper that Kelly Hunter has brought to the role in the RSC production (now at the Roundhouse).  The final scene was very moving  and Jacobi made a good attempt to bring the body on stage, but had to be helped to set the body down.  At the very end and just before the curtain call, the lights come up and the sun shines for a moment presenting an image of hope. 
I will see this production again at NT Live. It will be interesting to see the production close up on the big screen. I am sure this will be a very different viewing experience, and I will miss being in the theatre witnessing a live performance.
Reviews and Previews

The Stage / Reviews / King Lear

Sir Derek Jacobi: King Lear, the mountain you h…

King Lear Reviews at Donmar Warehouse – London …
FT.com / Arts / Theatre & Dance – King Lear, Do…

The Guardian review

King Lear (York Theatre Royal)

King Lear at York Theatre Royal with a cast of stars. This was a read through and it was much more interesting and engaging than I thought it would be. It was like listening to a radio play, I had to really focus on listening to the language without action, and character interaction to convey meaning.  However, there was the benefit of being able to observe the actors’ expressions which actually revealed a lot.

What is interesting is seeing/listening to the very different acting styles.  This can work in a read through much more than on stage. For example Freddie Jones was very classical in his approach and Coronation Street’s David Neilson played Kent as seeming cautious but very determined Kent (a bit like his portrayal of Roy Cropper in his best moments). You could also tell who were the Theatre actors as they moved off text very quickly and played much more to the audience.

Yes an enjoyable evening and I would go again to another read through. 

Reviews and Previews


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