Directed by Jacob Lovick
Produced by Jack Alexander and Bethany Kapila
Set in gang-land London during the 1950’s, director Jacob Lovick had a clear vision for his adaptation on the classic Shakespeare text King Lear.
Article 19’s production of LEAR portrayed the eponymous protagonist as an elderly, misogynist tyrant, who is the head and father of this “merry” band of mafia thugs. Rather than the somewhat overdone and typical view of ‘Lear’ as a tragic hero, this fresh and contrasting perception of the character allowed more depth to the role, which was wonderfully performed by the captivating Ben Firth, who brought life and humour to this stubborn old man whilst easily evoking sympathy from the audience, in spite of Lear’s obvious flaws. The daughters ‘Regan’ (Catherine Butler) and ‘Goneril’ (Lucy Cheetham) did an excellent job of reflecting how easily decent people can act in horrifying ways once given freedom from a strictly dictated lifestyle, and Chavonne Brown’s honest and laid back performance of ‘Kent’ gave the much needed comedy to the play.
The difficult task of modernising Shakespeare, whilst staying true to the original text, was successfully done thanks to a talented cast and crew, impressive set, and wonderful live band. The simplistic traverse staging in the Deb Hall, dimly lit and adorned only with a large table surrounded by Lear and his many dinner guests, helped the audience feel as though they’d been transported into the world of dangerous gangsters and glamorous broads. The realistic elements such as lit cigarettes, and the offering of a ‘club card’ upon entering the room, beautifully added to the smoky atmosphere and a sense of an inclusion in this 1950’s world. A “gangster don-father” vibe was perfectly created when watching the interaction around the table as the audience filed into their seats, whilst the actors ate, smoke, drank and chatted, easing the inevitable tension of the play.
The most noticeable alteration within the production was the decision to combine the brothers ‘Edward’ and ‘Edmund’ into one character ‘Ed’, who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder). This created a challenge for the performer (Ricky Carey), as not only must they differentiate both of these roles clearly to an audience, but they are portraying a serious mental disorder in a manner which cannot be offensive. Although Carey’s delivery was excellent and professional as ever, I was left unsure as to why this choice in character combining was made. Before the revealing of an empty medication bottle, most of the audience was left baffled to Carey’s numerous conversations with himself. His performance was flawless, but the decision was unclear, as no explanation was offered, and it leaves the question “what exactly did it add to the production?”, which can only be answered with “nothing, other than a radical adaptation.”
However, from reading the director’s note within the programme, Lovick’s interpretation of Lear and his feminist ideas could all be perfectly understood from watching the talented cast’s thoroughly enjoyable performance.