Pros: A stellar gore fest of a production with strong leads.
Cons: Weak supporting cast.
I’m always wary when I go to see Shakespeare as I have to be in the right mood, because you have to concentrate just that bit harder. Sadly, both my recent work commitments and trying to keep a cold at bay resulted in me arriving at The Cockpit in not the best of moods, but the friendly front of house staff and complimentary glass of wine definitely perked me up. As I entered the theatre my mood improved even more because I was blown away by the awesome performance space that is at the heart of this Marylebone theatre in North London. Everything is set in the round (yay!), the ceiling is miles away, there’s exposed brick, scaffolding and I felt like I’d entered an empty warehouse. I sat down and suddenly got quite excited about what I was about to witness.
This Darker Purpose Theatre production of King Lear, which continues The Cockpit’s popular Shakespeare season, holds no punches and is incredible. I loved it!
The legendary David Ryall in lead role was one of the best performances of Lear I have ever seen for so many reasons. The veteran stage and screen actor, now in his 80th year, has recently undergone chemotherapy, which has unfortunately affected his memory, so was holding his script throughout the performance, yet you never noticed. Any Shakespeare lead is a mammoth task, and performing it while suffering from something so personal and invasive I found incredibly brave. I was in awe of his tortured performance. David’s real life daughter, Charlie Ryall, played his on stage daughter Cordelia with grace and ease. I’m a massive soap opera fan, so love good bitchy sisters hell bent on destruction and Nikki Leigh Scott and Wendy Morgan do not disappoint. Both actresses gave solid and dark performances and I loved watching their descent into darkness unfold before my very eyes. Dominic Kelly’s Edgar was heartfelt and his solo scenes as Poor Tom were show stealing. Stephen Christos as Gloucester was a personal highlight for me as I felt his performance was both natural and vulnerable. The Act 2 father and son scenes with him and Dominic were beautifully performed and touching. Unfortunately, the supporting cast were not as strong and I felt that most seemed out of their depth with both the large performance space and Shakespeare’s text.
Lewis Reynolds direction, especially with the bigger monologues and en mass death scenes, was great and his vision for the production as a whole I thought was really good. Though I did find the pace rather slow for quite a bit of Act 1. The simple use of more sound and special effects (of which there are numerous in Act 2) would’ve helped here.
As with any good tragedy, the blood came thick and fast (as those seated in the front row can attest!). The staging of the infamous eye gouging was stellar and by the end of the show, with the entire cast lying there dead in front of you, my mouth was aghast at the amount of stage blood that had been splattered. It was awesome.
When I left the theatre, I looked at my watch and noticed that three solid hours had passed. I also realised my grumpy mood was a distant memory and that I loved this show and highly recommend it. Just don’t sit in the front row or else you’ll be stuck with a rather large dry cleaning bill.
Director: Lewis Reynolds
Producer: Darker Purpose Theatre
Booking Until: 29 Mar 2014
Box Office: 020 7258 2925
Booking Link: http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/king_lear