I may as well get this out of the way first: The Title Role of King Lear was played by Joseph Marcell, who played Geoffrey in the massive 90s mainstream TV hit : The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. To be honest, I was a tad worried that he’d been pulled in as a bit of a ringer – to give the tour a canny PR soundbite, but it turns out, he was every inch Lear – not a pinch, Geoffrey. On reflection, Geoffrey now seems a totally incongruous bit of casting for a performer of his caliber. Way over qualified. I’m glad he found his true calling of being a world class Shakespearean actor though, and I’m glad we got to see him.
We arrived with seconds to spare after the the combined rush hours of Lancashire and Yorkshire tried their best to conspire against us. They really did throw their worst at me – Road blocking accident, exiting Great Yorkshire Show traffic and more besides, thankfully the babysitting logistics went as smooth as the proverbial bum. Off we set. Warm clothes for later on? check. Camping chairs? check. Couple of drops of something nice? check.
After winding our way through the beautiful (olfactorilly and visually) ornamental gardens – on a path guided by flaming torches, our view opened up to an incredible lawn vista of this eighteenth-century country house. I snapped the above photo by the way just before we were politely asked to refrain from photography. (the other photos in this post were shot by someone else on the Bristol leg of the tour.)
Newby Hall is a place that I’m very familiar with, having been involved with several events there – but not this corner. The formal gardens corner. The geometric design of the gardens suggested that the chosen lawn for the play would have been the original families chosen lawn for hanging out – the house, directly behind, the setting sun – directly in front. Beautiful.
I’m not going to write about the specifics of the play here – as it is still touring and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but suffice to say, if you are going to see it – you’re in for a treat. The set itself is quite a star; it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve and things like the costume – I guess pitched somewhere around WWI / WWII with a twist works to unify certain relationships and make other characters utterly individual, perhaps non more so than Bethan Cullinane’s Cordelia / The fool. You’ll see some expertly put together fight scenes and hear painstakingly deliberated over voice delivery. In an interview about the tour, Marcell was asked about the text and language of Lear – his reply – insightful :
“Lear is a man who’s always had things done for him. His every whim has been satisfied and in certain instances it’s been very difficult to not add a kind of appealing connotation to the ends of the lines, rather than a direct command”.
A thing that I tried not to do was to sit there comparing it to the open air King Lear I saw a couple of years ago, but I did a bit. Both were brilliant, both were outside on summer evenings, and as I said in the piece I wrote about the Abbey Shakespeare production “there’s something unparalleled about outdoor Shakespeare”. It’s timeless appeal, the pin drop atmosphere, the elements and open sky – the most refined of all the summer evening activities. Obviously the cast were all different, and the location in a different country, but I think the main difference was the expanse of ‘stage’ footprint at St. Dogmaels vs the compact intimacy of The Globe on Tour’s stage. Both excellent venues, but utterly different from each other.
The story King Lear is ancient. It pre-dates Shakespeare and has been told in many different guises. If you’re after a gripping yarn about love and deception, a story of tragedy and madness, high energy and hilarity and a performance that offers everything from utterly cut back simplicity, to total chaos (in a good way) you wouldn’t have to look much farther than King Lear and if you’re after a solid, quality company of actors to illustrate this story for you, you wouldn’t have to go much further than these guys.
If you happen to coincide with any of these date / place combos, you should grab some tickets. Yes you should.
Penrith – Brougham Hall | 13 – 14 July
Cambridge – Cambridge Arts Theatre | 17 – 27 July
Denmark – Kronborg Castle | 1 – 3 August
More info can be found on the ShakespearGlobe.com’s King Lear webpage.