Friday, 27 July 2012

THEATRE REVIEW - Theatre in the Forest: King Lear

Red Rose Chain
Rendlesham Forest
25th July 2012


The Red Rose Chain theatre group have returned to Rendlesham Forest for their thirteenth year performing ‘Theatre in the Forest’, and once again the Suffolk audience welcomed them back with open arms. I am always impressed with the overflowing enthusiasm of the cast, and their success in entertaining audience members of every age; and although King Lear is certainly the most difficult of the Bard’s works I’ve seen them attempt, this year was no different.

The cast demonstrated once more the combination of stamina, technical ability and pure silliness which makes Theatre in the Forest such a winning formula. Without exception, they mastered the Shakespearean verse – often playing multiple roles – whilst for the most part keeping the convoluted plot accessible to all. Seasoned Red-Rose-Chainer Joanna Carrick continued her run of strong performances as Goneril/Gloucester (including a hilarious Shakespearean mash-up of Salt ‘n’ Pepa’’s Push It…) while newcomer Scott Ellis made a powerful Edmund, holding the stage with ease in his solo scenes. Elsewhere student Owen Morgan showed impressive range as Edgar and Regan, excelling in both poignancy and comic petulance in his varying roles. In this strong ensemble, however, there was no doubt that Edward Day was the star, in sheer stamina and commitment if nothing else. Lear is a mammoth role to undertake even within the Shakespearean canon, and Day threw his all into it, rarely having a break to speak of between scenes. As his control over events in the play faltered, his power over the audience grew, veering from near-physical breakdown to intense fury to childish hysteria. Most of all, it was evident just how much fun he was having with the role: a quality that the audience lapped up and repaid in obvious appreciation.

The costume and set designers were, as ever, not afraid to go along with some wacky ideas: Lear’s frequent appearances on a gold spray-painted mobility scooter both undermined his kingly authority and provided an opportunity for slapstick. The portrayal of the Fool as Lear’s adored hand-puppet was an interesting one; I suspect it was more due to numerical limitations of cast than anything, but nevertheless it provided an intriguing reading of the play. With Fool and King conflated into one, his childishness and increasing mental were highlighted. It also brought out some of the sympathy I’ve always felt for Goneril and Regan earlier in the play: ok, they do overreact in a pretty massive way, but you can see how some of Lear’s behaviour could start to wind you up…

As I conclude my review, however, I ask myself why I’m so reluctant to give it five stars. Somehow King Lear, entertaining and brilliant as it was, didn’t quite have that extra spark of magic that Theatre in the Forest has had in the past. Perhaps it is the toughness of Lear as a play, or perhaps they were let down a little by a couple of directorial decisions. The storm scene, that pinnacle moment, never quite reached the intensity I was looking for, yet I will admit that would be difficult in the beautiful July sunshine. For me the blinding of Gloucester also missed the mark – although again, it’s a hard scene to judge when you’re catering for young children.

So all in all, the Red Rose Chain have pulled off another great success. As the actors’ voices echo around the fantastic space of Rendlesham Forest, Shakespeare’s work really does come to life, and this King Lear is another unique, refreshing and thoroughly entertaining show, whether you are five, fifty or one hundred and five years old.

King Lear runs until 26th August in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk

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