Review – King Lear with Pete Postlethwaite, Young Vic

Tuesday 3 March 2009


Phil was having one of his cross days:

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man,” said Phil.

“Look, it’s just a drop of rain; it’s hardly spitting,” protested Andrew.

“And besides I’ve got a brolly.

“Do you want to go and see King Lear at the Young Vic or not,” asked Andrew, his patience wearing somewhat thin.

The answer was clearly going to be “not” and so it was that Phil passed up on the opportunity to witness what promised to be one of the most innovative productions of a William Shakespeare play since the Pie Crust Players had a stab at Hamlet under the direction of Julie Walters in the classic Victoria Wood sketch (sadly and strangely not on YouTube).

But there was no stopping Andrew who along with his adoptive Tufnell Park family of five fought through the crowds of diners and drinkers in the Young Vic bar to get to the less reliable theatre attached to it.

He was somewhat grumpy, of course, this being a theatre which can’t or won’t number its seats and tickets thus making the possibility of an extended family of six sitting together seem unlikely (“The children! Won’t somebody please think of the children!”). The ushers were making a big fuss about everyone bunching up on the benches because it’s going to be really busy and it’s difficult to fit everyone in. Well, we all know the solution to that problem…

But on the plus side Andrew was quite excited about the innovations which Mr Rupert Goold (one of the Whingers’ favourite directors since he made their heads spin in Six Characters…) had dreamt up to give King Lear by William Shakespeare a bit of oomph.

The Guardian made it sound very innovative indeed:

Goold’s production begins with Mrs Thatcher proclaiming: “Where there is disorder, may we bring harmony.”

Lear is a workaday, brown-suited figure who divides up his kingdom at a family tea party, where he lapses into a verse or two of My Way.

And according to The Independent:

Film projection of the Toxteth riots of 1981 is complemented by police in riot gear on stage.

Poor old Charlie Spencer got so upset about it all that he “felt like strangling this insolent young director”.


Well, you’re not going to believe it, but either the critics were making it up or it’s all been changed and the gimmicks have gone. Well, thankfully not all of them: Mr Postlethwaite still gives us some of his Lear in a dress and sporting a parasol (good legs for drag, we all agreed), some of it is conducted with a hand-held microphone and three of the minor characters still have their faces painted like football fans.

On the more traditional side of things designer Giles Cadle has come up with some cracking steps (left) on which much of the action takes place and which do look incredibly real.

Andrew was also very taken with Mr Cadle’s potting shed in which the mock trial of Gloucester and subsequent eye-gouging was set.

amanda-hale-and-pete-postlethwaite-in-king-learBut the main reason for going, it must be said, was to see Amanda Hale who so melted the Whingers’ hearts in The Glass Menagerie a couple of years ago. Sadly, she is cast here as Cordelia who despite being the tragic heroine doesn’t get anything to do except at the beginning and end. Miss Hale must get to catch up on an awful lot of telly in the middle parts of what is a majestically long production at three and three-quarter hours.

Still, at least she doesn’t have to do Goneril’s incredibly yawnworthy speech about whatever it was that seemed to go on for a full 15 minutes.

But sadly, the thing that lets the whole enterprise down is some very basic stagecraft: once blinded, Gloucester should try hard not to look in the direction that other actors are pointing; and much of it is too quiet to hear from the balcony.

But the most disappointing thing was the accents. There were far too many of them – Livepool, Ireland, Scotland, Wales (and that not even for a comedy role where it might have been acceptable c.f. Boeing Boeing). Do actors not learn Received Pronounciation any more at drama school? Do they not have these provincial ways of speaking beaten out of them? It wouldn’t surprise us if the left-handers among them had got through their entire schooling without having their left hands tied behind their backs as well but that’s the modern “education” system for you.


6 Responses to “Review – King Lear with Pete Postlethwaite, Young Vic”

  1. @ Andrew: I still can’t get past the fact that you went to see a Shakespeare play!

  2. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    I’m a little surprised that you don’t know (or less surprised if you’re just affecting not to know) that this production has notoriously been tweaked as a result of its first batch of reviews, with even Postlethwaite going on record to say he thought the tweakage was well warranted.

    And I think this was the first time I’d ever heard my friend Michael Colgan using his own accent onstage.

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    I think I need at least 3-5 years between any given Shakespeare, so this one was out from the start. The Jude Law Hamlet sounds tempting but it’s not like the story’s going to have any surprises in it – and I don’t actually even know if he’s any good as an actor.

  4. drew Says:

    Pete Postlethwaite, an absolutely brilliant actor. My wife and I are great fans of this fantastic character rich thespian great.

  5. […] actor who did quite a good job of it), Cillian Murphy (Nolan gave his scarecrow another run), Pete Postlewaite (Mr. Kobayashi had a powerful Jap to deal with here than in his Usual Suspects […]

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