Review: King Lear

On Tuesday 3rd November, 120 Lower Sixth and Remove pupils made their way to Marlborough’s Town Hall to watch a live broadcast from Stratford of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed production of King Lear, with Antony Sher in the title role.  Claudie Grainger of Ivy House Remove wrote this response to the play…

Before I saw the RSC’s production of King Lear I was certain I’d made my mind up that Lear was not the victim.  Previously, I viewed him as a raging tyrant rapidly declining to insanity.  However, this production has flipped my perspective completely.

Sitting in the mildly uncomfortable chairs waiting for the play to begin, I wasn’t expecting anything particularly mind-blowing and presumed I might be able to get in some good naptime.  However, the opening scene had me wide awake and paying attention.  The division of the kingdom scene was striking, to say the least, with Lear being carried in at the tail of a grand procession.  This scene is the first time we come into contact with our king’s wild temper and irrational decisions, but are these qualities `sins’?  Lear is so shocked by Cordelia’s answer to his questions that he doesn’t know what to do.  He is so upset by her reply that he feels he must not show his despair and he resorts to anger, banishing his favourite daughter.  And when Kent tries to make him see reason, possible fear of embarrassment and simple rage lead to Kent’s banishment as well.  This production allowed me to see that Lear took these actions in self-defence, and even though they were wrong he is not necessarily sinning.

The next time we call into question sins is when Goneril says he can stay but with only fifty knights.  Goneril is being truly spiteful when she asks her servants to be cold and rude; she has no reason to be so insulting especially, when she has just inherited half of the kingdom.  Lear was right to have been furious, specifically when she is ignoring the agreements they made, though the RSC did a very good job in this scene in criminalising Goneril; however, I thought the lighting was too dark and made the scene less vivid.

A moment that proves Lear has a softer side is when Lear, Kent and the fool come across `Poor Tom’.  King Lear has sympathy for Tom’s situation and wants to help the poor beggar.  To me this was a key moment in the play; we saw a more fatherly side Lear.  The acting during this scene was at its finest – acting inside a play is always a hard feat to accomplish- and in my view Edgar was incredible.

One of the most memorable scenes in King Lear is the blinding of Gloucester.  I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this version.  I didn’t think that Gloucester’s being inside a box amplified the scene in any respect and it was harder for the actors to portray their emotions and project through a box.  On the other hand, the blood and actual `removal’ of the eyes were gory enough!

In the final scenes, when King Lear’s mind is far gone and he is reunited with Cordelia, we come to see his realisation of love: that it need not matter what words you use, if you use any at all.  His relief at remembering and reconciling with Cordelia is heart-warming.  Cordelia was one of my favourite actors: she was bold and very true to character (not to say others weren’t, especially Edgar).  By the final scene, as I watched Lear slowly die of grief after Cordelia’s death, I had completely decided Lear was `more sinned against than sinning’.

The RSC’s production was enthralling with fantastic costumes and fascinating sets and staging.  I thought the lighting could have been better but that is a minor price to pay for an awesome play.  I do feel that the production victimised Lear more than the text itself, but that made it more interesting.  By then I thought Lear was just a sad old man who’d made the wrong decisions and come to pay for it.

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