King Lear, Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London. February 2014.
This was very much a group outing with Mr Norfolkbookworm joining me and two of my theatre going friends. Despite the best efforts of the weather and the trains on all of our travel we made it in time, scaled lots of stairs to the circle of the Olivier and found our seats in plenty of time for 'curtain up.'
This Lear was set in modern dress but in a non specific time and for the most part this worked for me. The costumes and set implied we were in a repressive state run by a tyrant, although this didn't quite work for me as I can't think of any modern tyrant who will voluntarily resign power. This production skirted the issue and I got the impression that this Lear thought that he could resign all of the nasty bits of power but keep the 'fun' bits and have plenty of time to hunt and hang out with the army.
I found the story to be clearly told, and fast paced - which was good as for the first time at the National I struggled to hear an awful lot of the lines, mainly when Lear and others got excited. The lines seems rushed and mumbled, too much emotion to keep the diction clear perhaps? This did not get any better when the sound effects for the storm came into the equation.
The scene with the Fool was particularly moving and it took me a couple of seconds to see exactly what had happened and then when Gloucester loses his eyes it was truly horrific - once more the sparing use of violence and gore worked to the advantage of the play, especially as the audience couldn't quite see the act being committed.
Act One was nearly two hours long and the action picked up even more after the interval but for me didn't manage to engage with me emotionally. I don't think that it helped that many of the deaths appeared to be played for laughs, not Lear or Cordelia, but Edmund, Goneril and Regan's certainly.
In fact on talking this through with one of my companions afterwards we think that this lack of emotional connection was one of our biggest complaints, well that and the inaudibility.
I don't know if I was expecting too much of this production after the wonderful Othello last year but I came away feeling a bit 'meh' and I don't think that any of the cast deserved the standing ovation that some in the audience gave.
In a way I don't think that the play was that bad, but like at a book group, it is far easier to discuss something that you don't like...
One of my recent uni tasks has been to think about reviewing productions, and taking notes on a production. I tried this at King Lear and they have certainly helped me recall details on the play but I think that talking to people who also saw the same production afterwards helps me more.
The notes I took in the dark are:
- Lear speaks too fast
- Long blackouts for elaborate scenery moving which don't seem so elaborate when the lights come up*
- All speak too fast when excited emotional, can't hear them
- Storm is rumbling around before the main scene as a portent
- No wind in the storm and only sound effect rain
- Images of lightning out of sync with the thunder +
- The revolve constantly turning in Poor Tom scene making me dizzy
- Lear's affection of clasping his buttocks makes me think he needs the loo - distracting ^
- Fool and Gloucester scenes brilliant
- Deaths towards end farcical not moving
* - in fact in Act Two it got stuck, I thought it had at the time but this has been confirmed by a friend and another review.
+ - surely not a good sign that all I can see is this and not one of the most important speeches of the play
^ - this started as hand behind back, became clasping and then scratching, I am guessing this is the 'tell' for madness but sadly it didn't stay consistent and was just distracting.