LEAR TOP

Lear sets in motion the decision which will lead to his downfall. Pictures: Marc Brenner

King Lear

Malvern Theatres

****

MICHAEL Pennington is one of those actors on the must-see list for theatre-philes.

He's one of the British stage greats, who not only founded the English Shakespeare Company in 1986, but is a regular on the Laurence Olivier Award nominee shortlist and described as “one of the finest Shakespearean actors of our time”.

So I had high expectations at finally getting to see the man in action in this heavyweight Shakespearean tragedy.

Pennington is au fait with the role of King Lear especially after recently playing the misguided king in a run at the Shakespeare Center in New York

He reprises the role for this UK tour, produced by Ambassador Theatre Group and created by the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.

The show is on the final week oLEAR AND CORDELIAf its tour and the cast has obviously had time to get used to each other's rhythm as it's a slick, fast-paced affair.

A gunshot rings out to start the proceedings, set in a 1920s-'30s era where the king's family has gathered for a shooting party reminiscent of those seen in Downton Abbey.

Pennington, looking eerily like a Jeremy Corbyn double, is masterful in the lead role, but it all seems so second nature to the actor. He effortlessly moves between Lear's arrogance, anger and later madness with a performance filled deep with emotion.

Michael Pennington and Beth Cooke as Lear and Cordelia

Pennington also makes Shakespeare's words easy to understand and it's fascinating to think how the language and themes are so relevant 400 years after Shakespeare's death.

The biggest reaction of the night was bursts of laughter coming to the line: "Get thee glass eyes, and like a scurvy politician seem to see the things thou dost not". So apt in the current political climate.

The whole thing also works well because there's a strong cast around Pennington, particularly the baddies - evil haughty sisters Goneril (Catherine Bailey) and Regan (Sally Scott), along with a mean, vicious Cornwall (Shane Attwool) and devious Edmund (Scott Karim), who is like a Cockney geezer on the make.

The only drawback is that due to a small cast, some of them have to double up in minor roles, which can be confusing. Beth Cooke playing Cordelia appears as a member of her sister's household and the deceased distinctive looking Cornwall is then a soldier for the opposing army.

There have been a few King Lear's on the theatre circuit of late but with Pennington in the title role, this has to be one that you can't pass over.

The cast will also be reading poems in the Malvern Theatres foyer from 6pm on Thursday June 29 in aid of Syrian refugees in Calais.

Until Saturday 2.7.16

Alison Brinkworth

27-06-16 

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