Thereís terror and pity in Shakespeareís tragedy of natural order turned upside down and the idea of a man Ė a monarch Ė stripped of everything has spoken in different ways to audiences in its performance history. Interpretations of redemption and self-knowledge through suffering range from Christian allegory to psychological journey.
In Creationís stark clear reading, director Douglas Rintoul turns a bright uncompromising light on the dysfunctional noble families at the storyís centre. Thereís nowhere to hide in the vast hangar of Oxfordís BMW plant under Simon Hutchingís harsh industrial lighting, etching hard shadows on every entrance and exit.
Before a word is spoken, Gonerilís single-minded ruthlessness, Reganís concupiscence and Cordeliaís discomfiture are plain from their faces and body language. Itís chilling to watch Lear literally wheeled in on a trolley, to walk into disaster of his own making with open eyes. His Ďblindnessí is indeed a precursor to Gloucesterís equally stubborn misreading of his sons and literal blindness later in the play.
All three sisters, iconically clad in black (Goneril) scarlet (Regan) and white (Cordelia), are convincing in their dealings with their wayward parent Ė and their sibling rivalry. The taut iciness of Eleanor Montgomeryís tiny whiplash of a Goneril contrasts with the voluptuous menace of Charlotte Lucasí Regan and Jenni Maitlandís sad, dignified Cordelia sees right through them both. She also plays the Fool, a doubling with poetic logic that is often effective in this play. For the Fool is there to watch over Lear, when Cordelia cannot, and use the apparent madness of his foolery to make him see more clearly.
Creation makes a virtue out of the necessity of doubling for economic as well as artistic reasons. Usually this works well and indeed Richard Cunninghamís doubling of Reganís cruel husband, Cornwall with Gonerilís worm-like servant Oswald, and Andrew MacBeanís vigorous Gloucester with Gonerilís well-meaning husband Albany, work well enough. But Darren Ormandyís doubling of Edmund, Gloucesterís unscrupulous bastard son, with Learís loyal servant, Kent, is more problematic, despite his undeniably skilled Brechtian transformations through costume and body language stage-centre. Perhaps thereís too much contrast between these intrinsically good and evil characters for either to make a convincing journey, as played here by one actor.
In the title role, Stephen Ley comes into his own as Lear descends into the freedom of madness to win audience sympathy, well-matched by Gareth Kennerley as Edgar, Gloucesterís cast-out son, who feigns madness to lead the journey to knowledge of self and compassion for others.
- Judi Herman