As a fanatical fan of Shakespeare, when I heard Theatre Group was doing an adaptation of King Lear for their Nuffield show, I was somewhat intrigued. Edward Bond’s Lear is a loose adaptation to say the least and claims to strip back the aesthetic of Shakespeare in order to make explicit socio-political comments.
I feel this is a play designed more to be appreciated than directly enjoyed. Firstly let me point out that there was no performance from any of the actors that I could fault. Star turns came from Nina Westby, whose calmly psychotic Fontanelle was truly disturbing; Hannah Cutting, demonstrating her incredible versatility as an actress with the character of Cordelia; and James Forster, whose performance was often devastatingly moving.
I must also congratulate Nick Barclay for his incredible performance in the title role of Lear. As the show progressed, Lear’s transition from madman into a tired and beaten down old gentleman only grew more and more convincing.
However, exemplary performances did not detract from the faults of the show. The use of the band was sporadic and therefore seemed out of place and at some points drowned out the cast almost entirely. The use of lighting was predominantly excellent aside from the eye removal sequence. The combination of flashing and blinding lights gave me a headache. I’m all for shared experience between the characters and the audience, however not to the point of physical pain.
The fact that I walked out of the Nuffield feeling more depressed than I’ve felt in a long time should also be raised. Had it not been for the sterling comic performances from the likes of Peter Ward and Amy Fitzgibbon, the show would simply have been too grotesque and too depressing for public consumption.
Theatre is an entertainment medium as much as an artistic one. Messages should shine through naturally from character interaction rather than being shoved brutally into the foreground, hence my previous assertion that this was a show to be appreciated rather than enjoyed. Aside from a few comical or moving moments, everything seemed designed to make a point rather than entertain.
The cast made a fantastic performance out of the show they were given, however I’m not sure this was a show that used the Nuffield to its full potential.