Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bristol's Tobacco Factory is perfect for theatre in the round, and works brilliantly for Andrew Hilton's new production of King Lear - no set changes to slow the energetic dramatic pace, and audience visibility creating a sense of shared voyeurism which often becomes a frisson of conspiratorial intimacy, shockingly intensified when conniving Edmund invites our collusion by addressing his monologues directly to us.
This is a tragedy of extreme dimensions and a fine SATF team led by John Shrapnel brings immense passion to the emotions and powerful impact to the assaults. The bullying macho ethos at court is highlighted: Kent for example (strongly played by Simon Armstrong) is gratuitously brutal, exemplifying the behaviour of the ‘100 knights’ that become the focus of contention between Lear and his exasperated daughters, underlining the dangers all around in a kingdom where truth goes unheard and loyalty is part of the tangle of violence.
The acting is superb and my only real reservation is the baffling costume design. Why, in a serious production, was Lear swaggering his moobs long before he went seriously loopy? And having established dress code as Elizabethanalia, why the random rummage through 20th century threads - still combined with antique weaponry - in the second act? Why did Edgar arrive for battle looking like a Tottenham rioter? Presumably this was all to hammer home the production comment that “At a time when autocratic regimes around the world are under unprecedented threat (the play) has acquired a new contemporary relevance.” But these distractions upstaged the actors, and I wished I'd been trusted to find Shakespeare's words enough to touch my heart and mind with the timelessness of human conflict, folly, and loss.
Photos Graham Burke

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