I hate to say it but the writer of ‘Game of Thrones’ is a real newbie when it comes to tales of royal intrigue, betrayal and deception. Way before George R. R. Martin picked up his pen, there was a quiet unassuming playwright by the name of William Shakespeare creating stories that make the tales of Westeros seem like an adventure in Toyland. One of the finest examples of this is “King Lear” the latest presentation by the Tower Theatre Company at Theatro Technis in Camden.
The King, Lear by name (Robert Pennant Jones) is getting old and wishes to retire and spend some time with his geraniums. Having no automatic male heir, he decides to offer his kingdom to his daughters; Goneril (Jill Ruane) – married to the Duke of Albany (Greg Robins) – Regan (Haidee Elise) – wife of the Duke of Cornwall (Michael Mayne) – and the youngest Cordelia (Hannah van der Westhuysen). In trying to decide how to divide the kingdom, Lear hits upon the unusual idea of seeing how much each of his daughters loves him. Goneril and Regan rise to the challenge and provide Lear with poetic words expressing their feelings for him. Cordelia on the other hand first refuses to say anything and then declares there is nothing to compare her love to, nor words to properly express it. Lear is unimpressed with this and promptly banishes Cordelia effectively splitting the kingdom between Goneril and Regan. This action has many repercussions, not least for the Earl of Kent (Ian Recordon) – who tries to defend Cordelia and is likewise banished from the country – and the Earl of Gloucester (John Morton) and his two sons, his heir Edgar (Adam Hampton–Matthews) and the illegitimate Edmund (Joseph Burke) who resents his status and has no loyalty to anyone except himself and his relentless need to improve his social position.
Having handed over the reins of power to his daughters and their husbands, Lear realises that their words were pure flattery, and that in reality both of them have no interest in the elderly father who they conspire to banish from their court with only his Fool (Tom Salyers) for company. As he wanders the countryside, Lear has trouble accepting what has happened to him and his family and eventually his mind descends into madness. Back at court, political intrigue is the order of the day – manipulated by the smooth tongued, good looking and charming Edmund – and family members turn on each other in pursuit of the ultimate reward.
When it comes to writing tragedy, Shakespeare really knew his onions and “King Lear” is one of the finest examples of this genre of work I have seen. The plot is complicated but explained comprehensively so that nobody loses track of just who is double-crossing who as the political and emotional machinations of the main characters unfold. If I’m perfectly honest, the sub-plot with Edmund, his father and half-brother is to my mind not entirely needed but I think it’s a bit late for a re-write. The reality is that the entire story flows beautifully and I still marvel at how many of the wonderfully lyrical expressions have made the transition from the first draft of the play in 1603 to today.
The Tower Theatre Company have put on a lovely production of “King Lear” with some very astute direction by Matthew Mulgrew making fantastic use of the huge space in the auditorium of the Theatro Technis which really comes into its own during the fast paced and highly realistic fight scenes from Movement Director Lindsay Royan. The set itself – basically a rather impressive raised throne and two chairs – by Michael Bettell is really effective, illustrating both the loneliness of monarchy and acting as a focal point for the ambitions of many in the cast. Some of the direction is really unbelievably realistic – particularly the treatment of the Earl of Gloucester at the hands of Regan and the Duke of Cornwall which sounded and looked horrific as the actors involved pulled out something really special to portray the disturbing scene beautifully.
Speaking of the actors, there is praise aplenty to be given to the seventeen strong cast who moved like a well-oiled machine in their various parts and disguises, keeping the story flowing wonderfully. I do have to single out Robert Pennant Jones for his masterful portrayal of Lear. When first he arrives in all his regal glory and ascends the throne, there is not a hint of the madness that he will eventually descend into and Robert takes the audience on Lear’s journey in magnificent style. Likewise, Joseph Burke’s Edmund is beautifully played, starting from the quiet, respectful acknowledged, but still illegitimate, son of an Earl – joining in the jokes his father makes about his mother Joseph takes Edmund through – with some really wonderful speeches directly to the audience – to the arch manipulator prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone to get what he feels is rightly his.
All told, this production of “King Lear” is impressive in every way. For someone new to this particular piece of Shakespeare, I found myself completely immersed in the world he had created and while there are very few laughs and lots of death, I left feeling that I had been treated to a wonderful evening’s entertainment by a very talented theatre company.
Review by Terry Eastham
Along with Macbeth and Hamlet, King Lear is regarded as one of Shakepeare’s greatest plays. An ageing King wields power in a childlike, irresponsible fashion which has devastating consequences for his family, his kingdom and ultimately his own sanity. Cast from his throne onto heathland blasted by a storm with only his court Fool as company, Lear comes to realise too late the nature of what it is to be human and the responsibility which accompanies absolute power. With some of his most violent scenes, Shakespeare depicts a fatal game of thrones.
King Lear – Robert Pennant Jones
Goneril – Jill Ruane
Regan – Haidee Elise
Cordelia – Hannah van der Westhuysen
Duke of Albany – Greg Robins
Duke of Cornwall – Michael Mayne
Earl of Kent – Ian Recordon
Earl of Gloucester – John Morton
Edgar – Adam Hampton–Matthews
Edmund – Joseph Burke
Oswald – Richard Pederson
The Fool – Tom Salyers
Doctor – Peter Novis
Captain of the French Army – Samuel Macqueen
Captain of the British Army – Ben Belbin
Curan, Servant to the Duke of Cornwall – Ben Belbin
Soldiers: Samuel Macqueen, Ben Belbin, Fred Janaway and Amy Wackett
Director : Martin Mulgrew
Movement Director : Lindsay Royan
Set Design : Michael Bettell
Costume Design : Lea Tunesi
Lighting Design : Stephen Ley
Sound Design : Laurence Tuerk
Stage Manager : Dinah Irvine
ASMs : Ann Watchorn, Lucy Bloxham
Assistant Director : Lisa Matthews
Assistant Movement Director : Richard Kirby
Lighting Operator : Jodie Day
Sound Operator : Laurence Tuerk
Set Construction, Rigging & Get-in : Keith Syrett, Jude Chalk, Michael Bettell, Phillip Ley, John MacSpadyen, Rosie Shipman, Robert Irvive and members of the crew
Publicity Co-ordinator : Amy Wackett
Promotional Video : Stephen Ley
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Martin Mulgrew
Evenings at 7.30
Tuesday 19th – Saturday 23rd May
Matinée at 3.00 Saturday 23rd May
The Tower Theatre performing at Theatro Technis, Camden
Thursday 21st may 2015