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What is there to say about this umpteenth production of King Lear? Well, it’s pretty unique and I believe the uniqueness of it stems from Jonathan Pryce’s ability to sustain the lighter moments before reaching Lear’s eventual tragic demise.
The Almeida isn’t the largest space but Tom Scutt’s design makes full use of it with a medieval stonewall backdrop and slamming steel doors which mark the ends of scenes. Costumes were a bit lacklustre in colour but the materials, cuts and shapes looked beautiful and blended into the medieval world created on stage.
The tale starts with King Lear asking his three daughters to profess their undying love for him. Things take a turn for the worse when Cordelia (Phoebe Fox),the youngest, decides not to follow in the footsteps of her more false and devious older sisters, Goneril (Zoe Waites) and Regan (Jenny Jules) claiming that she loves her father simply as his daughter. She is then cast out of his kingdom leaving her father in the hands of two power hungry daughters who force him from the throne leaving him spiralling into madness.
Like the earthy-toned costumes and the sprouts of green that pop up from the stage floor, this version of Lear has a down-to-earth quality to it. This self-destructive family seems recognisable in some way. At the outset of the play, I found Pryce’s Lear to be disturbing as there’s an incestuous undertone given through long, lingering and uncomfortable snogs with his daughters, but this is one of the more interesting choices made in the production. As the play progresses and so does Lear’s lunacy, Pryce manages to capture our sympathies while maintaining a light-hearted and comedic performance before being wheeled out in a more deteriorated state to confront Cordelia at the end of Act IV. It is precisely Pryce’s child-like nature which he gives to Lear’s ever maddening state which I found so refreshing.
Another notable comedic performance was Kieran Bew as the scheming Edmund which contrasted well with Richard Goulding’s Edgar as his quiet and desperate brother.
Trevor Fox’s thick Geordie accent enriched the role of the Fool and was paired with a jovial performance by Fox throughout. Of the three daughters, I thought Zoe Waitesstood out the most bringing just the right amount of wickedness to her performance as Goneril. Director Michael Attenborough has managed to put his own spin on this Lear and with Pryce at the centre of it, I could see why this has been a much anticipated production.
Performances until 3 November
Islington N1 1TA
Box office: 020-7359 4404