(Clare Brennan’s review appeared in the Guardian, 3/8.)
Followers of Northern Broadsides won’t be surprised by the company’s trademark “classic texts in northern accents”. And yet these voices transform King Lear. The everydayness of the tones lends an almost soap-opera feel to the family conflicts that drive the action of the play. We recognise these people! At the same time, the accents carry us back to an earlier period, when vernacular voices delivered stories of domestic disputes and regal power struggles through a similar combination of poetry striated with laughter and suffused with spirituality – the medieval mystery plays. Shakespeare’s tragedy, here, springs from its past even as it leaps towards our present.
Jonathan Miller’s production is revelatory. It looks simple and straightforward – Elizabethan-style costumes and minimal set. As with Terry Hands’s Hamlet, each situation is played at its theatrical face value for dramatic effect. Consequently, every situation is crystal clear and its part in the patterning of the structure is plainly seen. An intricacy of interconnecting opposites (parent/child, frailty/strength, intransigence/compassion, good/bad…) clash around the question: “Is man no more than this?” It is voiced by Lear when he catches sight of the disguised Edgar, Christ-like in his beggar’s battered and bloody near-nakedness, during the storm on the heath.