Yard Players King Lear may miss its mark as a modern production, the dark underworld setting never quite comes together, but it is an accessible and well-acted production. Whether this is your 1st Lear or your hundredth there is always something to be found in this production.
James Eley hasn’t made any outrageous changes to the script but there is an interesting casting decision; turning Edmund into Ada (Evangeline Beaven) initially seems gratuitous with lesbian affairs with Goneril ( Zara Banks) and Regan (Fleur De Wit) and misogynistic as she is beaten by men but ultimately her illegitimacy and her sex seem to go hand in hand. Resentful of her brother (Edgar) and her father Gloucester (Christopher Poke) she proves she is not only worthy of legitimacy but also of their respect as a woman.
The reason this gender change is so interesting is that Jessica Kinsey plays Cordelia and The Fool (which is a rare casting in London theatre but was common practice in Lear’s early performances) as female and male. The Fool is referred to frequently as a boy but as The Fool turns to the audience as Cordelia does at the beginning I wondered if there was a suggestion that they were one and same. Cordelia disguising herself just as Pete Picton’s Kent.
What about Lear himself, Alan Booty as the elderly leader driven mad by his daughters’ rejection is not necessarily the most sympathetic character but I felt a real sense of loneliness in Booty’s interpretation, without any other interests he relies on his daughters’ love and without that we see him descend. The kingdom was a distraction and without that distraction he becomes a burden, an elderly relative who nobody wants to care for, especially when they have taken what they need from him.
I felt the casting worked the sense of time and place never came off. There were suggestions we were in pubs and other social places but it just didn’t work, perhaps by design but it would have made more sense to make these characters part of a family business than the criminal underworld. None of them had the menace, with the exception of David Sayers’s Cornwall. I am big fan of Christopher Poke after seeing him in a City Lit production of Separate Tables. It was a delight to see him take on Gloucester and yes, that scene is just as gory and sadistic as you want from Lear, it is a real shame that a music decision “Blinded by the Light” made it seem a bit of a joke.
As a production, it has reignited my interest in Shakespeare. I look forward to Yard Players next production.
King Lear is on until 30 March http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/