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King Lear by William Shakespeare at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

King Lear, at the Jack Studio Theatre.This is a good way of presenting Shakespeare to a contemporary audience. Purists will be purists and there isn’t much that can be done about them, taking umbrage with a production like this because it isn’t in a three-storey, open-air amphitheatre. For some regular theatregoers, the recent production of King Lear in the West End in the summer and autumn of 2018 (a transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre), may still be fresh in their minds. Either way, an appropriate amount of script has been trimmed, or at least it feels that way, coming in at two hours and thirty minutes against the West End’s very full and faithful rendering, fifty minutes longer.

Granted, given the studio theatre acoustics, the cast can talk a little faster and have fewer dramatic pauses, but there are other techniques that contribute to a leaner show that is still unmistakably King Lear. The set is kept simple, with a back wall used as a chalkboard on which key words were written as the show progressed. It reminded me of a question asked in my schoolboy days during English Literature, about how the audience in Shakespeare’s day would know whether it was morning, evening or the middle of the night. Someone suggested that a sign might appear on stage –’11:00AM’ or ‘NIGHT’, for instance. The ‘proper’ answer, as you know, is that the script makes it clear enough. So, it is here in Act II Scene VI, with Lear (a convincing Alan Booty), telling his companions, “Make no noise, make no noise; draw the curtains”.

But what about the setting of each scene? It can take a while to set up a scene change in fringe theatre, where the resource and capacity to have large revolves and stage automation isn’t there. Modern audiences, who have been exposed to relatively imagination-free cinema and television mediums, need something to go on, and bear in mind that this isn’t the Globe, and we haven’t brought along copies of the script to help with navigating through proceedings. Some may find it a bit rudimentary to crudely introduce, for instance, Act IV Scene I by just writing ‘Heath’ on a wall, but some of the other key words were rather amusing, particularly the names of the pubs where various characters liked to meet.

Yes, the settings for certain scenes has changed, which is just as well, as there is nothing to indicate in terms of set or costume design, that these are residences of royalty. Even Lear himself wears the kind of business suit that wouldn’t look out of place in the slightest on the morning commute. No crown, no sceptre, no throne, no portraits. While Booty’s Lear has a good stage presence, there’s also a manner in his kingly anger and righteous indignation that called to mind Victor Meldrew from BBC Television’s One Foot in the Grave. If anything, it provides an unexpected source of comic relief.

You may, quite understandably, be bored of the B-word (I know I am, at the time of writing). But even I can’t help finding some sort of parallel between the divided kingdom of Lear’s day and the divided kingdom of 2019. This production, I hasten to add, makes no attempt to crowbar topical current affairs into the narrative in any way, but nonetheless, the observation is fairly obvious. It’s a strong cast, overall, with no weak links to report. The press night audience seemed very engaged by what was going on – there were audible gasps and groans, for instance, in Act IV Scene VII when the Earl of Gloucester (Christopher Poke) is, as the scene change music in this production would have it, blinded by the light. It’s all easy to follow, whether you’ve seen King Lear a hundred times or never before.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Lear is retiring. He cannot stand in the way of progress. But dividing his vast empire between his daughters comes at a cost. Now he must navigate a treacherous path leading to refuge or madness.
Yard Players present a new interpretation of an epic story of loss, growing old and new beginnings. Set in a criminal world where family ties are stretched thin and business brings blood, we visit the stark reality of an ever divisive dog-eat-dog society.
He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf.
This production marks the exciting debut of Yard Players, a new company creating vivid, accessible productions of classics.

The Creative Team
Playwright | William Shakespeare
Director | James Eley
Design | James Eley
Lighting Design | Paul Lennox
Producer | Yard Players
The Cast |
King Lear | Alan Booty Edgar | Daniel McCaully
Ada (Edmund) | Evangeline Beaven Cordelia/Fool | Jess Kinsey
Kent | Pete Picton Goneril | Zara Banks
Albany/Oswald | Ben May Regan | Fleur De Wit
Cornwall | David Sayers Gloucester | Christopher Poke

Theatre social media:
Twitter: @BrocJackTheatre Facebook: /brocjacktheatre
Twitter: @yardplayers

Yard Players presents
King Lear
by William Shakespeare
Tuesday 19 to Saturday 30 March 2019
www.yardplayers.com

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
www.brockleyjack.co.uk

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