MATILDA WNEK finds a Lear with flashes of brilliance that is ultimately unable to weather the storm.
ADC Theatre, 17th-21st January, 7.45 pm/2.30 pm, £6-10
Directed by Charlie Parham
This production of King Lear is made remarkable by its central performance. Theo Hughes-Morgan is almost unrecognizable (I assume) as the aged king; his closely observed mannerisms distinguish him instantly from his fellow actors. His descent into an unconventionally fitful madness was skillfully foreshadowed by gradually emerging tics that were sustained throughout and rarely overstated. Credit should go to Charlie Parham for what must have been a lot of attentive work on the pacing of this elegant dis-assemblage.
Ultimately, however, the play failed to approach tragedy. I came away disappointed by a production that undercut its strongest asset with a series of bold but frankly bizarre directorial decisions that evidenced a total lack of clarity over what was worth emphasizing.
Photographs by Sana Ayub
The set made a play at simplicity with its multi-purpose gold beanstalk-doorposts, but they were over-decorated, ugly, cluttered the stage and confused location. The storm sequence sacrificed all sense of Lear’s isolation in order to have several people wave sheets of metal to make thunder noise, a choice totally inconsistent with the recorded wind track and flashy lightning projections. Worst, much of the action was frustratingly sucked upstage, making for undramatic scenes that occasionally dragged.
I was amazed by how little time was given to Lear’s revelatory speeches in the storm, which are surely a contender for the most important moments in the play. The staging was arranged as if the important thing to emphasise was the need for Lear to get inside: at the peak of his lucidity in madness he was being physically pulled back upstage by a desperate Kent and fenced in by people with thunder sheets.
Other important moments were not well prepared. The blinding scene had no time to get carried away with itself, Edgar and Edmund’s duel was almost totally unanticipated and the deaths of the sisters follow no particularly charged exchanges with Edmund.
There were some exceptional performances, of course. Mary Galloway’s perfectly neurotic Gonerill lifted every scene she was in, and Jack Hudson’s Gloucester was quietly brilliant, meeting his extreme changes in fortune with a well-drawn and believable simplicity.
Charlotte Hamblin was a committed and captivating Fool, but her Cordelia was far too petulant and defensive to carry the weight of the reunion scene. In a stroke of what might have been genius, Parham had the first scene preceded by a depiction of Cordelia’s anxious anticipation of the event, turning her protest against the ceremony into a preplanned and considered decision. She has chosen to refuse to speak because she loves her father and wishes to open his eyes. His failure to validate her hope could have been beautiful, but Hamblin’s defensive anger and persistence was totally misplaced and made it impossible to believe she could ever have been his favourite daughter.
Eventually, Hughes-Morgan just retreated into his head and got on with it: affecting, but it left the tragedy about nothing more than a state of selfish people ignoring an old man going mad. I couldn’t help but feel there was a better play going on inside his head, and I wished this production had been patient and focused enough to show it.