King Lear, written in 1605 or 1606, shortly after James I ascended the throne and when the question of Elizabeth I¹s succession had been solved, deals not only with the problems arising from division of a kingdom between a king¹s heirs, but also with the subjects of disloyal children; age versus youth; madness, particularly that brought on by grief; and exile.  With such meaty themes to handle, this is not a play for the faint-hearted to perform or even to watch.

While there is some comedy in the play, these moments are few and far between and, in fact, the majority of the play is intense and dark. This needs compelling acting to be credible. Not only do the cast need to know their lines, they must also fully understand them and be able to convey them: knowing them exceptionally well is vital.

Classic Theatre Cumbria demonstrated that it has actors within its ranks who are capable of such delivery. The two actors playing the Duke of Kent (Andy Keogh), and Edgar (Will Higginson), the son of the Duke of Gloucester (David Bamford), were particularly notable.  These are both difficult parts; both have to pretend they are different personae and that they aren’t recognised by the other characters (while letting it be clear to the audience who they really are); both have not only to express their own emotions, but also to comment on the action around them. Each, for example, has to express his pain at seeing someone he loves in pain or suffering madness, without revealing who he is.

At the end of the play it is Kent who says “heart now break” and who, with empathy for his sovereign¹s state of mind and heart, bids the others let Lear die in peace. There were scenes where these two actors portrayed an empathy which brought a lump to the throat. A further remarkable achievement of Classic Theatre Cumbria¹s production, directed by Mike Head, was that it successfully conveyed the drama without resorting to graphic effects. This was perhaps most notable in the scene where Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out. There was little blood, real or fake, but Gloucester’s howling, his back to the audience, was spine-chilling enough, and the other actors reactions realistic enough, that watching it we felt appalled.

With few props and no scenery, this production relied totally on the actors ability to draw us into the story. They did so just as well as many West End productions.

The cast:

King Lear, John Davies; Goneril, Tracy Swan; Regan, Tash Shaw; Cordelia, Lauryn Jamieson; Duke of Albany, Roger Bird; Duke of Cornwall, Ian Baker; King of France, Nik Shaw; Duke of Burgundy, James Shorrock; Earl of Kent,Andy Keogh; Earl of Gloucester, David Bamford; Edgar, Will Higginson; Edmund, Craig Batey; Oswald, James Shorrock; Lear¹s fool, Bill Turner;
knight, Alan Sykes; Curan, Alan Sykes; gentleman, Nik Shaw; three servants, Alan Sykes, Nik Shaw, Colin Dawson; old man, Colin Dawson; messenger, Alan Sykes; doctor, Colin Dawson; captain, Alan Sykes; herald, Ian Baker; map holder, Alan Sykes.

Behind the scenes:

Director, Mike Head; assistant to director/company manager, Irene Roberts-Green; stage manager, Irene Roberts-Green; treasurers, Ann and Karen Spedding; props/set design, Nigel Vear, Joe
Kavanagh; costume, Jo King, Heather McAnish, Lis McAnish; website/publicity design, Paul Batey; sound and front of house, Chris Drouet; lighting, Matty Collingwood; music, Philip Gruar and Elizabeth Dodd; props, Sue Fell.

Sarah J. Lewis Briggs CWHerald