Day 5: “Most savage and unnatural!”

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Kevin McNally in King Lear
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

As my week draws to a close, I’ve managed to maintain some variety by heading to see King Lear again. I’ll be honest, when I saw it on press night I was in two minds about it – and it was one of those that I couldn’t quite decide on a star rating for. That side of things is normally quite instinctive (especially when it’s 1* or 5*), but occasionally I find myself undecided – for this one in particular I was stuck between 3* and 4*, eventually going for the higher rating on the basis of some exceptional performances and the highly evocative storm scene. All the same, I was slightly wary of standing for 3 hours.

Thankfully, despite the physical effort of standing, it’s worth it being down in the yard. I was fortunate enough to get a spot right at the front, and felt included in absolutely everything (there are still some issues with projection, so it’s useful being closer for that reason too) – I could really feel the emotion from there.

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Ralph Davis in rehearsals for King Lear
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

This is the third production of King Lear that I’ve seen over the past three years, and each time I’ve been entirely fascinated with the character Edmund. He’s Gloucester’s bastard son, which obviously held greater meaning at the time of writing; they did not stand to inherit anything, even if they were acknowledged and raised in the same house. Edmund’s ultimate goal is to take his legitimate brother’s inheritance from him, as he’s sure their father loves him the most but is bound by custom – so he convinces Gloucester that Edgar’s plotting to kill him, all the while suggesting to Edgar that he’s helping him. Later on, when Gloucester chooses to help the king, he assumes his father’s title and appears to have socially legitimised himself.

Aside from King Lear, the role of Edmund is a rather pivotal one; he sets so many different events on their course, and ends up being responsible for the tragic ending (despite trying to redeem himself on the point of death). In the three productions I’ve seen, this part has been interpreted in three distinct ways: Sam Troughton (at the National) was more the recognisable villain from the outset, with a thirst for power; Paapa Essiedu (for the RSC) was more slippery and sly, seeming to be inherently evil; Ralph Davis (in this production) is more aggrieved, absolutely feeling the injustice of his situation and wanting to set the world to rights – and if he gets some additional rewards as a side-effect, then so be it.

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Anjana Vasan in King Lear
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

As you’ll have seen in my review, as well as Kevin McNally (King Lear), Anjana Vasan (Cordelia) and Joshua James (Edgar), Ralph Davis really stood out for his portrayal of Edmund. What’s all the more impressive is that he only graduated from RADA this year! Davis is immediately engaging; it really feels like he’s confiding in the audience, slightly seduced by power as he goes along – and genuinely torn as he starts to lose control towards the end. Definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.

I’m really glad I had the chance to return to King Lear as a groundling, and am intending on going once more in October to see how it develops – and to be able to watch more of it in darkness! (It has a live cinema broadcast on 21 September, if you can’t make it to the theatre itself.)

There just so happen to be some King Lear questions in my Shakespeare quiz – if you’ve not entered yet, you have until tomorrow…

2 thoughts on “Day 5: “Most savage and unnatural!”

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