Review: King Lear – Theatre In The Forest, Rendlesham

Shakespeare productions still appeal to directors, not only for the strength of their writing, but also, despite their age, the ability they have to be constantly re-imagined in new ways.

King Lear seems to have a particular fascination for directors looking to place their stamp on the production. Over the years we’ve reviewed all male Lears, all female Lears, dance Lears, musical Lears and even a Japanese Lear. Johanna Carrick’s production for Red Rose Chain, though, takes a different tact – bringing out the comedy of Lear.

For what is widely recognized as one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies, it may seem an odd choice, but like any of his work, Lear defies straightforward categorisation and alongside the dark there is plenty of shade.

It’s clear from the outset this isn’t going to be your traditional Lear, with the audience asked to stand to greet the Monarch. There can’t be many Lears, though, that have made their entrance full speed on a gold clad mobility scooter, resplendent with monograms and bedecked with jewels.

Carrick’s adaptation strips the epic tragedy down to its bare component parts, focusing in on the central characters. It does allow the plot to hurtle along at break-neck speed but it does, at times, lose some of that majestic sweep.

Edward Day is a much younger Lear than we traditionally expect but revels in bringing out the Monarch idiosyncratic side as well as a darker facet. It’s a radical interpretation that mixes the Madness of King George with Lear. Despite the unusual take, it’s a performance that commands attention.

There’s also fine work from Lauryn Redding’s Cordelia, Scott Ellis’ Edmund and Carrick’s own performance as arch villainess Goneril. Her production makes full use of the forest setting, becoming suitably darker as the dusk falls over the pine trees.

The comic take is certainly inventive and entertaining and for those looking for an entry point into perhaps one of Shakespeare’s strongest examinations of at the human psyche it’s a highly accessible piece. As a concept, though, it’s not entirely satisfying; the lightness of touch robbing some much needed dramatic tension. The comedy makes it hard to fully emotionally connect with Lear and his warring daughters.

Those seeking a traditional Lear may be disappointed but then again this production isn’t aimed at the aficionados. For those looking for an entertaining evening, regardless of authorship, the piece is pure fun. Is it Lear? The jury’s out. Is it entertainment? On that level you can’t fault it – seven actors, the open air, and a minimal set holding and audiences rapt attention for two and a half hours is hard to dispute.

Written originally for The Public Reviews

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