Main Site         

Don Warrington’s black production of King Lear mistakes shouting for passion and melodrama for horror

2016 April 12
by Paul Vallely

King Lear

Royal Exchange, Manchester

2 stars

There is a conundrum with productions of classic plays by black companies. Is the aim to give black actors a crack at big roles the theatre often denies them from unconscious prejudice? Or is it to bring out new resonances, or even an extra dimension, in the text.

The latter happened at the RSC last year when Othello and Iago were both black, with a performance of immense intensity from Lucian Msamati as the villain. And in 2012 the RSC’s African Julius Caesar rang with renewed conviction from the world of Amin, Mengistu and Mugabe.

Don Warrington’s Lear with the black-led Talawa theatre company was eagerly awaited. He gave a performance of real power at this theatre two years ago in All My Sons. Sadly his Lear is lacklustre and Michael Buffong’s production – despite extensive programme notes about age, dementia and race with its section on BAME Shakespeare – brings no new insights.

There are flashes. Miltos Yerolemou’s Fool is shot through with irony and pity. Thomas Coombes adds camp menace to the often anonymous role of Goneril’s steward. And Alfred Enoch’s Edgar feigns madness with a vigour which suggests a subliminal psychological disturbance. Signe Beckman’s cleverly tilted set conjures a world where things are out of alignment.

Warrington’s Lear works in its final pitiful scenes, where the outcast king regains his autonomy and assurance through madness. But otherwise it lacks subtlety, which is true of the whole production which mistakes shouting for passion and melodrama for horror. It does not just lack dynamic range, it is unmodulated. The Bastard has no sexual chemistry. There is no tenderness in this shouty Cordelia. And the first night audience actually laughed openly when Gloucester’s eyes were put out and bits of rubber flew out all across the auditorium. Oh dear.

This review appeared in the i newspaper

Comments are closed.