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King Lear: The verdict

Pete Postlethwaite returns to his Everyman roots for one of the the highlights of 08. Vinny Lawrenson Woods enjoys the madness

Published on November 6th 2008.


King Lear: The verdict

BETRAYAL, sibling rivalry and madness has arrived at the Everyman Theatre. Fools and lunatics lead the blind, and Pete Postlethwaite dons a dress.

This long anticipated highlight of Capital of Culture year sees The Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse team up with Headlong Theatre in association with The Young Vic.

Other effects, like the rain, are brilliantly convincing and the Everyman's intimacy only adds to the experience

King Lear is based on the legend of an 8th century English king. But here, told in the modern day, the opening scene has the look and feel of your local social club hosting a retirement party, with Lear as the guest of honour. With a mic in hand, the king even treats his guests to a karaoke favourite.

Stark and foreboding, the excellent set - used as a backdrop for video footage - sets the tempo and atmosphere. Other effects, like the rain, are brilliantly convincing and the Everyman's intimacy only adds to the experience. There’s a real sense of voyeurism when the actors are only inches away from the audience.

In one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, we follow Lear's descent into madness, accompanied and helped by his fool, Forbes Masson (Monarch of the Glen), who could only be described as a benign and humorous version of Heath Ledger’s joker, and the loyal Earl of Kent played by the powerfully convincing Nigel Cooke.

John Shrapnel (The Duchess) shines as The Earl of Gloucester who suffers a terrible and graphic attack, and Tobias Menzies (Casino Royale) portrays Edgar with zeal as a man feigning madness to hide his identity, but obviously not his

body. As Edgar becomes more demented, the more clothes he seems to lose.

Casting Director Ginny Chiller does a fine job of including Caroline Faber (Merlin) as Goneril, and Charlotte Randle (The Miller's Tale) as Regan, the older daughters of Lear, who lace their characters with venom and malice. Other notable performances come from Peter Bramhill (Human Traffic) as Oswald and Jonjo O’Neill (Band of Brothers) as Edmund.

Postlethwaite, returning to the Everyman after a long absence, impresses in the lead role in the theatrical event of 2008. Cooke and Masson nearly stole the show with performances of verve and comedy, only to be outdone by the star, and Shrapnel’s brilliant depiction of two old men dealing with treachery, death and the unknown.

At three hours long, this is an epic for the small stage, but it’s been done exceptionally well, embracing the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy without cowering from its unpleasant elements, with bodies to match. Even though music and song are used, there are no Spielberg endings here, but that doesn’t mean it’s all gloom either. Such is the quality of the Bard's writing that humour and humanity always shine through. Rupert Goold has directed a play that mixes the light and dark and has ultimately created a performance of great quality.

9/10

*King Lear, Everyman Theatre, Hope Street, Liverpool, L1. SOLD OUT

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AlexNovember 6th 2008.

Saw Lear on the opening night. I've always hated Shakespeare but wanted to see Postlethwaite act.Postlethwaite delivered as you would expect but I didn't enjoy the modern touches. The opening scene with its chorus of 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' set the wrong tone for me, but not as much as the use of a microphone and the modern dress. One character seemingly wearing a Glasgow Rangers scarf and others with George Crosses painted on their faces like the cliched view of a football supporter during the World Cup. An experience worth having certainly, but one that could've been better without these strange ideas.

DescartesNovember 6th 2008.

Saw Postley in The Tempest over in Manchester last year, if this is anything like that then I'm only surprised you didn't score it 10

dukasNovember 6th 2008.

A Scouse Lear. Probably the most profound play in all Literature and a denizen of Liverpool attempts to provide a new spin. And fails.

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