King Lear – Citizens Theatre

Approximately half-way through the first act of Dominic Hill’s King Lear I realised why the evening was beginning to feel so disappointing. Letting go for a moment of the incoherent  business on stage, my mind was somehow reminded of the last time I felt the same way in the theatre.  All of a sudden, it became obvious. The last time I felt so glum on a Friday night was sitting through the interminable Peer Gynt that the National Theatre of Scotland put on a couple of years ago. Then the revelation – it was the same director, and he had apparently given the same stage directions on both occasions. An almost blank stage. A live soundtrack performed in the wings – this time by hitting the strings of various distressed pianos, amplified to the point where one could not always hear the hear the actors shout. The same faces staring from the wings. The same disregard for humour and wit. The same astonishing vision in which plot, character, speech and emotion are made subservient to the grandiose visual design.

In Peer Gynt, the audience was bewildered to find a different actor taking on the central role after half-time. In Lear, one of the key protagonists had a completely different accent whilst talking in soliloquy than when he was talking to others on stage. But why? That Kieran Hill, as Edmund, did it well did not justify the fact that he did it at all.

Paul Higgins as the Earl of Kent shone particularly brightly and could not be faulted.

David Hayman did all that was asked of him but surely a Lear cannot be considered a success when we have more sympathy for the actor than the character by the end of the evening.

Amongst the rest, Lynn Kennedy’s Morningside Cordelia was bewildering rather than beguiling

Though this Lear was monumental in its pretensions, it never amounted to anything more than the sum of its parts. That its parts were often considerably accomplished added to the frustration. Visually, it was stunning. The storm was particularly effective. At one point a child in the audience was weeping, but whether at the goriness of the gouging incident or at the stage direction, I never became certain. There was blood on the floor either way.

When all was done, the rapturous reception by the audience with some on their feet, just made me more cross.

Just like Peer Gynt from beginning to end.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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