King Lear

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Director Grace Wessels offers up an intriguing take on Shakespeare's failing king, depicting his kingdom as a decadent Jazz Age haunt that's falling into ruin.


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Subterrestrial Well-lit Purviews The Rose theatre is easily one of the most unusual attractions in London. Not since the Indiana Jones trilogy(no mention of the fourth film) has the field of archaeology and drama been displayed with such pre-eminence. The Rose was “erected” in 1587, a word that I should point out has particular significance, due to it being built in an area already overflowing with Brothels. Lear(we’re close), has had its setting converted in the past into other environments for example 80’s New York (Mason), Ancient Rome(Assanti) and even the distant future(my high school production), in this particular instance the director – Grace Wessels opted for a 1920’s costume theme, perhaps hoping to connect with the recent resurgence of the Prohibition Era (as in recent TV series smash “Boardwalk Empire”) in an attempt to add a more visual taste to the edited down script. The styles are interesting but fall somewhat short, as the costumes are quite often never referenced within the dialogue or movement, making what the actors are wearing a rather immaterial affair. The backdrop it has to be said, is breath-taking, but if a Shakespeare play is to be updated while utilizing the space it inhibits, it would perhaps have been more suitable for a modern – Vampires vs. Werewolves or Mole People of the great depths style display. The show is produced with a minimal budget, with the gallant hope of creating much needed furore for the theatre and overall the play delivers an intriguing and professional adaptation. This particular King Lear tells the story of an aging “mob boss” (Julian Bird) who is preparing to split his land between his three daughters, so that they may retain the power of his “organization” in order to prolong the family rule. Performances are solid and professional, with outstanding portrayals from both Lear, The Fool and Kent. Kent’s performance is largely the most underplayed of all of the roles, yet this under the surface rumble and his leering shape(not a pun) comes across in a captivating way. Kent’s character has the least to play with as far as explosive scenes and moments of extreme dramatization. He does however remain a constant thrill, in a dramatically summarized version of the play. The Fool(Felix Trench)dressed here as a “mobjster” (Mobster+Jester= Joe Pesci?) gives an uplifting performance in a role that manages to maintain a constant sense of comedy, insanity and danger. At one point we are even treated to a tune that hung somewhere between Anthony and the Johnson’s alt-rock and an Alessandro Moreschi(Eunuch) performance. Overall, I have never experienced a play as unusual as this and would recommend it to all those who would like a break from the often somewhat grey depictions of Shakespeare.

Loved it! Great production, great actors (esp. Elisa Ashenden), cool location (quite literally, do take a warm coat with you). Highly recommended!