As part of my study of English Literature at A-level, we have to study ‘King Lear’ by William Shakespeare for our exam in June. To help us with our study of the play, we were able to see a performance of ‘King Lear’ at the Birmingham REP. Considering I’ve never written a review for a piece of theatre before, and the fact that I really enjoyed the performance - here’s a review of the production that we saw at the REP.
Firstly, I have to say that the REP theatre itself is an incredible venue. It being so open and airy in layout means that not only does everyone get a great view of the stage, but you also get an amazing atmosphere - almost as if you were watching a performance at an outside theatre, but from the luxury of a closed, warm theatre! It’s a wonderful venue to watch a performance at - it’s got great seating, lovely and professional staff, as well as being entirely accessible for myself and my wheelchair.
Now for my review of the play itself. I have to say that Buffong’s direction added lots of depth to the play and it’s story. From subtle changes that made pieces of dialogue have a different and more lasting impact on the audience, or more stylistic changes in terms of staging, - many aspects of the play, due to this direction, were original - and even genius, allowing the audience to see the play and its story in a new light. Due to this, the play had more of a lasting impact of both the audience and myself - as soon as the lights came up when the play ended, the audience began to discuss the play and Buffong’s direction in particular. Meaning that elements of the play had been heightened for all of us, and making the whole production unforgettable.
The costumes were an also unsung hero of the production, with the characters of the three sisters - Goneril, Regan and Cordelia all having extremely beautiful costumes. From lavish dresses to fitted boots, the costume department manages to show aspects of the characters through just one piece of clothing. One example that comes to mind is the likes of a fur cloak that Goneril wears at one point of the play, being both so elegant and heavy with symbolism (as it mirrors a part of Lear’s costume just so) that there were many members of the audience agape just at the dazzling beauty and genius of the costumes and the costume department at the REP.
Lighting during the play was also incredible. Every moment was perfectly lit - from the dark, mysterious scenes perfectly complimented by torchlight, or the blinding of Gloucester illuminated by a bright light from under the stage that made everyone in the audience audibly gasp, and at the same time making the scene itself all the more emotional and meaningful. The play took on almost a new life from the lighting alone. It was a beautiful, artistic addition to the play that made it all the more meaningful and impacting. Hats off to the incredible team at the REP!
The actors themselves also brought the story itself alive with some outstanding performances from the entire cast. Honestly, you couldn’t fault any performance - every single one truly fleshed out every character fully, and most in brand new ways. There were some definite stand out performances, however - in particular, from Don Warrington, who played Lear. His strong performance of an incredibly tyrannical and emotive Lear commanded the attention of the audience, particularly in the heath scenes, where his emotion carried through the theatre, making everyone go completely silent due to the power in his performance. Miltos Yerolemou, who played the Fool, also carried out a great performance, as he was able to imprint the character on the audience’s heart despite the character’s limited scenes in the play. Alfred Enoch as Edgar was also really impressive as he allowed the audience to see the desperation and love within the character, even without dialogue. The actresses who played sister’s, and Lear’s daughters also have to be mentioned. All three actresses - Rakie Ayola as Goneril, Debbie Korley as Regan and Pepter Lunkuse as Cordelia - dominated every respective scene that they appeared in, bringing grace, power, and an emotional connection to their characters. Leaving the audience even more cathartic and saddened at the play’s end, as well as giving everyone a newfound appreciation for the characters and their place in the story.
However, the entire cast was superb - and are all worthy of praise and acclaim, as they really made the performance memorable, impacting and enlightening - even to a group of students, who struggled with connecting with and understanding Shakespeare at times.
So I would wholeheartedly recommend that you go and see this performance of ‘King Lear’ if you can - it brings so much to the original text, as well as honouring it perfectly. It’s an incredibly original and absolutely outstanding performance that deserves to be seen by all.
‘King Lear’ runs at the REP until the 28th May. More information and tickets can be found here.