Friday, September 25, 2009

Shakespeare Expounded

Caroline Devlin, Richard Neale, Terence Wilton, Dale Rapley, and Rina Mahoney - the entire cast of King Lear.

No lover of Shakespeare could take Harvard's "Shakespeare Exploded" series seriously - but bardolators can get a fix of the sweet stuff out at Wellesley this weekend, where the Actors from the London Stage are performing a touring version of King Lear at 7 PM on Friday and Saturday night at Houghton Chapel.

It's even free.

AFTLS scales Shakespeare's Everest with just five climbers - three men and two women (above), all of whom, fortunately, know the lay of the land, and make it well up the slopes, if not quite to the pinnacle, of Shakespeare's most piercing tragedy. To be honest, the tiny cast size forces a few scenes into a straitjacket (the same talented bloke plays both Edmund and Edgar, for instance, resulting in some rather forced antics when the two do battle). But deft use of simple costumes and props (scarves, sashes, hats) allows the actors to slip in and out of character and interact with each other and their other roles with relative ease.

Indeed, this was probably the clearest and least impacted version of Lear I've ever seen. Although to be honest, it wasn't quite the best (that would probably be Brian Bedford's version at Stratford a few years back), although it ranks high among the local efforts of the past twenty years or so. It would be hard to argue, for instance, that lead Terence Wilton genuinely sank into madness as Lear, and as Goneril and Regan, Rina Mahoney and Caroline Devlin never came to full evil flower. Perhaps the strongest performances in the production belonged to Dale Rapley, who subtly and skillfully delineated his Kent and Gloucester, and Richard Neale, who brought a welcome, if somewhat broad, energy to both Edmund and Edgar (although he eventually grew shouty as both).

Above all, this production gave us Shakespeare shorn of concept and trend. Which is always something to be grateful for.


  1. I went on Saturday night to see this King Lear on your recommendation, and I'm quite glad I did. It was remarkably clear story-telling, and Richard Neale was tremendously entertaining. I was impressed that he managed to convey some actual development of Edgar while keeping Edgar and Edmund so distinct.

    ASP's lovely Henry V which also used five actors convinced me that the play really needs no more than that. I'm not similarly convinced by this King Lear, but it was certainly far better than the dull production I saw on Broadway in 2004 starring Christopher Plummer among a cast of 29.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Michael. I wasn't crazy about the ASP's Henry V, but it did pull off the amazing trick of covering the whole play with just five actors. And I agree with you about the Plummer Lear - I saw it Canada, before it got to Broadway, and even then it didn't seem to take advantage of its tremendous cast.