1960s, Aislin McGuckin, Bath, Cordelia, David Haig, Exeunt, Exeunt Magazine, Fiona Gascott, Goneril, King Lear, Lucy Bailey, Paul Shelley, Princess Margaret, Regan, Roald Dahl, Shakespeare, The Thick of It, Theatre Royal, Witches
I deliberately left off writing this review for a few days, in the belief that the wedding of my sister, which myself and the third sister were attending, might be ripe for providing the right type of anecdote with which to open a review of King Lear. Anecdotes, when sought for, never appear and, instead, the wedding was an amicable success and my bridal sister looked more beautiful than a thousand Cordelias.
Thinking that a family wedding might be a good place to find a King Lear-esque episode is probably a sign that I should get my head out of the theatre and into ‘the real world’, although in my defence the production I had just seen was somehow so enjoyable it made family feuds faintly covetable.
All eyes, of course, were on David Haig, waiting for him to break into an impromptu The Thick of It rant and threaten to send Regan ‘down to Funky Town. Funky Town centre here you come! Chooo-fucking-choo!’. It’s odd that when someone is funny they are assumed to be incapable of portraying any other emotion or sentiment. Odd, but understandable. I just sat for a while trying to imaging David Mitchell delivering a really grim funeral oration and couldn’t quite get the image straight. Haig, however, did get the image of Lear right and although several signs of the impending madness quite clearly made their way into the early scenes, the descent into rain-soaked ravings remained convincing.
It will, however, be a shame if both the pre-performance focus on Haig and the fineness of his performance mean that the rest of the cast gets forgotten. Aislin McGuckin and Fiona Gascott as, respectively, Goneril and Regan were expertly distasteful. After a slightly nasal beginning, Gascott’s princess played out like Lindsey Lohan doing an impression of a Roald Dahl witch, whilst McGuckin managed to inject an additional globule of grossness into a name already saturated with bad infectious associations: Goneril. Together, in this new setting of 1960s London, their performance reminded one of some of the not-so-salubrious tales told about Princess Margaret in her youth and, as is the way with the traditional Good Girl vs Bad Girl trope, was far more engaging than the portrayal of the saintly younger sister.
Paul Shelley’s performance as the Earl of Gloucester of was pretty understated, yet all the better for being so. He somehow encapsulated the ‘just an alright bloke’ role, the kind of decent uni professor most people just like. His complete inability to be either annoying or divisively sycophantic made the famous eye-plucking scene and the cruelty of Regan’s entourage particularly pointless. Idiotic scapegoating and coke-head paranoia could be the only causes of such futile aggression.
I could have detailed the list of nits I had picked out of the production – gripes about the scenery or grumbles about the fight scenes – but in truth (and almost against my grumbly nature) I just really enjoyed this production, and have continued to do so in all days following it. Whether that is down to this particular cast and director or the flat out fabulousness of Shakespeare’s language, is an unresolvable question. King Lear is a text which has justifiably survived the centuries and, updated into a modern setting or not, always feels relevant.
Just not to many family weddings…