This review originally appeared on the Sheengate Publishing site. The production ran from 7-14 November 2015.
King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies. Old men make fatal misjudgements, the younger generation are corrupted by ambition and the blackest parts of human character are revealed. Nature itself seems to rise in rebellion, but love and loyalty offer hope, and through suffering comes the wisdom to see the truth and the goodness of the human spirit.
The Richmond Shakespeare Society production at the Mary Wallace Theatre in Twickenham presents the play on a bare stage, the only set decoration being a large metal disc that represents the sun and the moon, and the only sound effects an offstage drum.
This ‘stripped back’ staging is very effective, but means that the focus is very much on the performances, so director Simon Bartlett is fortunate in having sufficient strength in depth within the amateur cast to do justice to the text, providing a rewarding evening for the audience.
Lear exiles the people who most love him – his youngest daughter Cordelia and his loyal adviser Kent – and puts his trust in those who would do him harm – his other daughters Regan and Goneril. The consequences are a kingdom plunged into civil war and, for Lear, a loss of power, despair and then madness. Too late he comes to appreciate his errors and the genuineness of his banished daughter’s love, and his heart breaks with the realisation of what he has lost.
In the parallel tale, the Duke of Gloucester is deceived by his illegitimate son Edmund into believing Edgar, his other son, has murderous intentions. It takes being blinded for Gloucester to truly ‘see’ through Edmund’s lies, and to understand that Edgar is the most loyal and loving of sons, who puts himself in danger to protect his father.
As the Duke of Kent, exiled from court, but who returns in the guise of a servant to protect Lear, Barry Langford gives an excellent performance, his loyalty to the capricious king never wavering. Dionne King as Goneril, whose professed love for her father masks a cold and ruthless nature is similarly strong.
Neelaksh Sadhoo is a convincingly evil Edmund, deceiving his father in one breath while revealing his true intentions to the audience in another, and Scott Tilley makes a suitably thuggish Cornwall.
However, any staging of Lear stands or falls with the actor playing the king and Craig Cameron-Fisher gives a powerful performance that carries the production through any weaker points that it may have. Dominant and swaggering in the opening scenes, he fills the space both physically and vocally. His madness is poignantly acted and the final heartbreak provides a tragic finale. It is a performance well worth catching before the production ends on Saturday.