I think it’s best to describe last Thursday’s performance of King Lear as inconsistent and unpolished. There were moments where the desired style and gravitas of the production and the play itself shined, and where the concept of the play showed itself to be not only viable but unique and interesting. However, there were just as many moments where that ideal was locked behind a lack of polish and iteration that offered only glimpses of what could have been. It was a ball of raw potential that just needed more time to have that potential grow into a fully realized production.
First and foremost, the visual design was striking and engaging. Putting the show in thrust added a sense of closeness to the stark, black set, which included only two set pieces: A tree and a Throne. Lighting was similarly impressive, with bright, harsh lighting adding a coldness to the set. The exception to this was an out of place strobe sequence in Gloucester’s blinding, which took away from what should have been the most visceral, violent scene in the whole play. Music was also well thought out, using Kanye West’s music to create an eerie atmosphere, something I thought genuinely not possible.
However, the staging and the performances were less consistent. The show drew a strange line between being stylized and naturalistic, opening with a highly physical dance number followed by a purely standard setting of the first scene. Movement was even more inconsistent, with some scenes feeling strangely static and others having immense amounts of movement for seemingly no reason. This led to a strange disconnect in the show, where I couldn’t really feel a unity in tone throughout the scenes, something that hinders a play that can be as tone dependent as this one is. As for the performances, I felt like all the actors knew their characters and knew where they needed to be, but needed more rehearsal time to make those characters hit their heights. Highlights of the show were Jemima Tyssen-Smith, who brought excellent comedic energy as the fool, Eleanor Burke, who smashed her opening monologue as Edmund, and Annabel Steele as Lear, who managed to tackle one of the most difficult roles in Shakespeare with an impressive amount of grace and skill.
If this show had another week of rehearsals, I could see it being fantastic. The amount of talent and thought put into this show was clearly visible, it just needed a bit more time to reach its fullest potential.