I was a bit apprehensive about seeing this production after seeing Cymbeline, which is largely the same cast but I needn’t have worried. This is a much better production and the actors were, mostly, audible.
I have to start by saying this is one of my favourite plays, despite having studied it for A-level English Lit. I can still remember huge chunks of the script, which might account for my being able to hear it better, and I think the stories sizzle along and keep the audience interested. I have also seen the play twice in 8 days – with different groups of friends.
Greg Doran is, in my opinion, one the best Theatre Directors in the UK. His productions are almost always good and unfailingly interesting and I liked the way he brought out facets of character in Lear’s daughters and Gloucester’s sons that reflected their father’s personalities.
Antony Sher was a good Lear; credible as a King with an uncertain and changeable temper, as an man who wants to cast aside responsibility and as a confused old man. I thought his curses against Cordelia could have more angry and vitriolic. Instead they came across as stage managed anger, which doesn’t fit the idea that Cordelia is his beloved child.
Natalie Simpson did a good job as Cordelia in the first half and at the end. For once Cordelia didn’t come across as such a drip but as someone who had principles and could stand up for herself. Oddly, having said that, she was weakest as Cordelia, General of the French army where I didn’t think she was martial or authoritative enough.
The best bits of casting, for me, was the Gloucester family. David Troughton was excellent as Earl of Gloucester, totally credible as father of Edmund and Edgar, as a bustling courtier and as the broken blinded outcast. We don’t see him on stage often enough.
Paapa Essiedu was a suitably matter of fact Edgar sharing his thoughts with the audience and drawing us into his plots. Having seen him I regret not having gone to see him in Hamlet earlier in the year.
I enjoyed seeing Oliver Johnson playing one of the good guys as much as I enjoyed his playing Iachimo in Cymbeline. I thought he showed the anguish of a son watching his father suffer and the pain of watching evil thrive exceptionally well.
In terms of the stage setting I loved the mostly empty stage and minimalist props. The storm scene was well done with the moving fabric suggesting the wind and the lighting effects making a brilliant rain storm.
My least favourite bit – both in the setting and the execution – was Gloucester having his eyes put out. It was obvious as soon as the perspex box came up through the stage that there was going to be splatter effects and I think being able to anticipate it took away some of the shock of the scene. And I think stamping on an eyeball was a bit childish and unnecessary.
Overall, a much better experience than Cymbeline and I enjoyed this version of the play.