King Lear at the Everyman

King Lear at the Everyman

Four of us went to see Peter Postlethwaite’s Lear at the Everyman tonight.  It’s resolved itself (after some early difficulties, apparently) into an impressive production with a moving central performance by Postlethwaite.

This is from the Daily Post review:

King Lear, at the Everyman, is one of the most eagerly anticipated Culture Year events, and expectations were high. Award-winning director Rupert Goold, who has already made a huge impact as one of theatre’s hottest talents, is widely attracting as many superlatives as his Liverpudlian Lear.

And last night they showed it was with good reason… Postlethwaite’s king is played with a gentle, ever-present humour and vulnerability. Lear is no enraged, roaring yet doddering fool, but prey to a sympathetic confusion. His insanity, tinged as it is with a sort of whimsy, is a contrast to the grisly, sometimes stomach-churning, and deadly deeds going on round him.

His daughters, Regan (Charlotte Randal) and Goneril (Caroline Faber), and the banished yet pure-hearted Cordelia (Amanda Hale) are excellent, in command of their dialogue and bursting with their own drives and passions.

JonJo O’Neill uses Irish charm to humanise the misdoings of psychotic bastard son Edmund, channelling his soliloquies with vigour and without the indulgent overacting they can be prone to.

Goold is clearly unafraid to grab Shakespeare’s text firmly and give it a vibrant shake. Contemporary touches and mischievous additions are executed with confidence and imagination. It is easy to get swept into the all-encompassing storm  and almost feel part of the action, as in the opening scene the characters clap and sing For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow to Lear as he emerges from the audience. This Lear sinks into the skin of the viewer to provide a truly memorable piece of theatre.

From the Chester Chronicle:

This portrayal of the deeply flawed monarch expertly emphasises the character’s many faults and supreme arrogance to the extent that you almost look forward to seeing his downfall after he stupidly banishes both Cordelia and Kent for not telling him how wonderful he is.

As compelling as these opening scenes may be, you wonder if Postlethwaite may have gone a little too far in stripping Lear of virtually any sympathy – a risky strategy when one’s involvement with later scenes relies so heavily on empathising with his spectacular downfall.  But we are in the hands of a masterly actor here and, almost without realising it, we begin to side with him as his predatory daughters Goneril and Regan plot against their father (and then inevitably against each other).

The suffering they inflict upon him is so devastating that eventually we do end up agreeing with Lear that he is “more sinned against than sinning”. Lest you think this is a one man show, praise should be heaped on just about everyone else in the cast who more than adequately raise their game to match the star.

Caroline Faber and Charlotte Randle keep Goneril and Regan the right side of pantomime villainy; Jonjo O’Neill brilliantly mines the black humour that is so vital to the success of the diabolical Edmund; Nigel Cooke makes for a versatile and commanding Kent; while TV and stage veteran John Shrapnel is heartbreaking as the brutally tortured Gloucester. All this and more is marshalled magnificently by director Rupert Gould who ensures this is a Lear for the 21st century with touches of reality TV early on giving way to vivid depictions of modern warfare.

Perhaps, though, his most daring presumption was to take one of the greatest oversights in the Shakespeare Canon – the inexplicable disappearance of the Fool (splendid Forbes Masson) two thirds of the way through – and inventively provide the character with a full story arc.

This is a lusty, bloody and hugely relevant Lear for our times and it deserves to be regarded as both a landmark production of the play and the theatrical highlight of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year.

Pete Postlethwaite – born in Warrington – joined the incomparable Alan Dosser company at the Everyman in the 1970s that included Julie Walters, Matthew Kelly, Bill Nighy, Anthony Sher, Trevor Eve, Jonathan Pryce, George Costigan and Alison Steadman.

‘It was an exceptional time in anybody’s theatrical history, I think,’ Pete says in a BBC interview.

If you looked at that list of names now you’d say they would never be in the same room, building, county or country together, let alone in one small tatty little derelict theatre called the Everyman on Hope Street, it was an absolute pantheon of stars. Now when you think of Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Julie Walters, George Costigan, Mathew Kelly, the list goes on and on. It was a phenomenal time, a creative inspirational, exciting, dangerous, provoking, illogical, magical mystery tour, really just brilliant. It taught me why I want to be an actor, so I’m ever grateful for that.

There’s something uniquely Everyman about the Everyman. Ask me to define that and I’d be lost but it didn’t matter what the shape of the stage was, there was an ethos, a feeling, something in the air in the Everyman. I used to live in Canning Street and I remember standing the opposite side of the Philharmonic just thinking ‘This is it, this is what I want to do’ there’s no going back or forward.