The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th May, 2016
Direct from Manchester’s Royal Exchange, this production of Lear jets into Birmingham. It’s a satisfyingly traditional affair; the setting is the Dark Ages, the stage a stone circle. Huge structures tower around it. Signe Beckmann’s design is both evocative and versatile; the circular acting space serves as royal palace and blasted heath. The costumes too convey the period. We are in Game of Thrones territory and the characters behave badly accordingly.
Don Warrington makes a stately entrance as the eponymous monarch, in Jon Snow furs, but it’s soon apparent that he has already lost a marble or two, with his irrational game for the throne. Whichever of his three daughters loves him best, will get the largest share of the kingdom. It’s a lesson for all those with kids – don’t give them their inheritance while you’re still alive; they will only treat you abominably! Warrington is powerful as the king losing his faculties and he is at his best, not when he is howling with grief, but in the quieter moments of clarity and self-awareness. That really hits home. Nowadays, if a playwright wants to write a piece about dementia, there is plenty of research material and you can probably get funding too; Shakespeare works purely from observation and I wonder who it was that he observed in order to depict the condition so accurately…
Philip Whitchurch is magnificent as the Earl of Gloucester – his journey is as devastating as Lear’s. The blinding scene is a shocking slice of Grand Guignol, deliciously gruesome – director Michael Buffong should use that energy and ‘attack’ in other scenes; the pacing is somewhat pedestrian at times, making me long for judicious cuts – of the text, I mean, not the cast!
Fraser Ayres makes an enjoyable villain as the bastard Edmund and I also like Thomas Coombes’s rather flamboyant Oswald. The Fool (Miltos Yerolemou) seems a little too sorrowful right from the off – he first appears as Matt Lucas in a Robert Smith wig – even his best japes are tinged with sadness. He ends up like a bedraggled Miriam Margolyes – before his disappearance from the action. Rakie Ayola and Debbie Korley are suitably nasty as evil bitches Goneril and Regan, while Norman Bowman’s Cornwall lends a Scottish lilt to the dialogue. You wouldn’t want to endure the hospitality of any of them.
Alfred Enoch throws himself around as Edgar, disguised as ‘Poor Tom’, Wil Johnson’s Kent is suitably noble, and there is strong support from the likes of Sarah Quist and Sam Glen in ensemble parts. Atmosphere is created in abundance by Johanna Town’s lighting and Tayo Akinbode’s sound design – distorted winds underscore turbulent thoughts.
On the whole, it’s an admirable production, a clear and straightforward handling of the tragedy that does not rely on gimmicks. Excellently presented, it does however lack a certain something, a certain spark, to keep you gripped for its three-and-a-half hours.
Don Warrington (Photo: Jonathan Keenan)
Leave a comment | tags: Alfred Enoch, Debbie Korley, Don Warrington, Fraser Ayres, Johanna Town, King Lear, Michael Buffong, Miltos Yerolemou, Norman Bowman, Pepter Lunkuse, Philip Whitchurch, review, Sam Glen, Sarah Quist, Signe Beckmann, Tayo Akinbode, The REP Birmingham, Thomas Coombes, Wil Johnson, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review
OF MICE AND MEN
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 14th October, 2014
The REP’s resident artistic director Roxana Silbert delivers a knockout production of John Steinbeck’s classic tragedy of lowly men. She has assembled a strong ensemble of players and draws from them powerful performances in a somewhat lyrical, naturalistic way in a stylised setting. This mixture of emotional truth and having the mechanics of the theatre in view all along works tremendously well, thanks to Liz Ascroft’s design and Simon Bond’s lighting but mainly, of course, due to the stellar company of actors.
Michael Legge is long-suffering, neurotic George, travelling across Depression-riddled America with companion Lennie, who is more of a hindrance than a help. As Lennie spoils things for George every step of the way and George displays his deep-rooted annoyance, you wonder why he stays with the big galoot. But as we meet other characters and their loneliness is painfully laid bare, we realise it is loneliness that binds George to liability Lennie. Even the nearest town is called Soledad (loneliness in Spanish).
Norman Bowman is striking as macho but warm-hearted Slim, while Ciaran O’Brien makes hothead Curley volatile and dangerous, a victim of small-man syndrome if ever there was one. James Hayes is heartbreaking as old timer Candy, evoking strong emotions as he carries a bit of old sack, fashioned to represent his elderly dog, and Dave Fishley brings both dignity and anguish to crippled Crooks. Lorna Nickson-Brown is trouble on legs as Curley’s otherwise unnamed wife (apart from ‘tart’) – They all come across as very real, although they are cogs that Steinbeck winds ever tighter so the tragic climax becomes inexorable and inevitable. The American Dream is unattainable, he says, but it’s what keeps people going in times of extreme hardship. One wonders what the British equivalent is, during this period of austerity. Vera Lynn, perhaps, promising blue birds over Dover’s white cliffs…?
The central relationship between George and Lennie is the keystone of the entire piece. Silbert brings their contrasting aspects into sharp focus. Michael Legge is superb as crotchety George, but Benjamin Dilloway’s Lennie is an outstanding piece of character work. His Lennie amuses, touches and frightens us, all within a range of seconds, and back again. He is a not-so gentle giant who should not be allowed in a petting zoo.
Even if you know the story, this production cranks up the tension, making the brief flashes of humour and the briefer glimpses of hope of a better life all the more poignant. Intense, gripping and devastating, this Of Mice And Men resonates with humanity unloved and the tragedy of unrealisable dreams.
Rabbit rabbit rabbit. Michael Legge and Benjamin Dilloway
Photo: Ellie Kurtz
Leave a comment | tags: Benjamin Dilloway, Ciaran O'Brien, Dave Fishley, James Hayes, John Steinbeck, Liz Ascroft, Lorna Nickson-Brown, Michael Legge, Norman Bowman, Of Mice And Men, review, Roxana Silbert, Simon Bond, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review