Review: King Lear @ The Roundhouse

Review: King Lear – RSC @ Roundhouse ****

Coming out from under the shadow of a much lauded Donmar Warehouse production (with Derek Jacobi as the eponymous King) the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear emerges victorious.

David Farr’s exhilarating production celebrates Shakespeare both as lauded poet and enthralling entertainer of the populace.  Farr’s company breathe new life into Lear evoking humanity in all its grotesque complexity. Within this tragedy comes a bubbling laughter that seeps up from an Elizabethan text and into the gurgling throats of a highly receptive 21st Century audience.

Framing this contemporary take perfectly is Jon Bausor’s thundering set. An active player in each scene it fizzles, clanks and strains as chains and steel cables shudder, always threatening to envelope each soul brave enough to stand up on stage. Bausor’s design even indulges in a couple of guilty pleasures along the way; with a flickering chandelier hinting cheekily towards that lord of commercial theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Farr keeps this healthy sense of showmanship ever present but in the midst of it all the story is told with breathtaking clarity. The whole cast is gloriously well honed, taking the kernel of truth at the heart of each line and nurturing it into something unexpected. Tunji Kasim may lack the gravitas for a true Machiavellian villain but his Edmund has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Movingly the moment of reconciliation between Charles Aitken’s spiritual Edgar and Geoffrey Freshwater’s honourable Gloucester gives us a poignant reminder that the young don’t always destroy the old.

With Kathryn Hunter’s shock departure Sophie Russell more than steps up to bat, taking on Hunter’s intended role admirably. Her Fool is a bitter harlequin whose canary voiced wisdom shakes our King and his audience to their very core. Her glassy eyes see everything and there is a melancholy to each flick and twisted turn that envelopes her constantly shifting form.

But last honours must go to Hicks. His Lear rails against an epic storm before even a drop of rain is felt and continues to do so long after it has dried as his age besets him.  An often underrated Shakespearian actor, his understanding of each moment is iron cast.  Hicks plays within this sinewy framework vividly, resulting in a truly unique performance at the heart of an original and invigorating King Lear.

Runs until 4th February 2011

As You Like It @ The Roundhouse

Written for http://www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk

Review: As You Like It – RSC @ Roundhouse ***

There’s something very adult about Michael Boyd’s smooth production of As You Like It, currently wooing audiences at The Roundhouse. Boyd takes Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy and turns it into a corseted lover; inside this sophisticated production there’s an exuberant play wriggling to get out.

It all looks and sounds gorgeous of course with Tom Piper’s design and Struan Leslie’s delicate choreography gracefully encasing this genteel beast. It’s a floating concept and you feel in a bubble as our characters traipse Piper’s minimalistic set, their clothes shifting from period to modern dress. This is perhaps to reflect the magic environment of the forest of Arden but it’s all terribly cerebral.

The performances are all also set squarely above the shoulders. This is a consummate company with each performer playing their role prettily, but in this firmament of well-crafted souls only a few truly shine. In a show that prizes earnestness over frivolity it is perhaps fitting that Jaques should be one such star. Forbes Masson has a stunning alto voice and a beautifully neat ankle. Masson languishes around the stage wittily and pointedly highlighting each ridiculous moment with Byronic flair but his purple eyes reveal an oddly moving anguish.

Katy Stephens’ Rosalind is vivacious and bold if a little hyper, her constantly glistening eyes betraying an anxious nerviness at odds with this light hearted romantic comedy. She and Mariah Gale play like tiger cubs and their love for each other is palpable. If Rosalind and Celia are usually sun and moon, here the pale moon shines just as brightly as it’s brash cousin with Gale turning in a complex, moving performance as the loyal sidekick.

That Boyd has given us an intelligent As You Like It cannot be denied.  But it never transfers from the head to the heart and though there are laughs to be had here, there is strangely very little joy.

Runs until 5th February 2011.