King Lear

Talawa Theatre Company return to the Royal Exchange in Manchester with their version of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, reuniting director Michael Buffong and actor Don Warrington from the superb 2013 production of All My Sons.

King Lear, the play, looks at the consequences for everyone of one man’s rash decision to partition his kingdom.  Many will talk about the relevance to Europe and the UK today.  However, the feel of this production is much closer to the post World War I split of the Middle East, or partition of India, both of which led to violent consequences still felt today.  Or even a very old England.

As King Lear, the man, Don Warrington is wonderfully prowling, unpredictable and playful, a strong portrait of the man descending into madness.  But what really separates this production from others is the way director Michael Buffong brings everything together to tell the overall story, and to lay bare the consequences of Lear’s actions.  There is such a depth of acting talent throughout the cast, with several stand out performances, and a perfect dovetailing of staging and technical.

The staging is simple but very effective, designer Signe Beckmann creating a gravel circle inside a slightly tilted disc to evoke a sparse, barren land that is both nowhere and anywhere.  Lighting (Johanna Town) and sound design (Tayo Akinbode) create a focused backdrop, essential to build up tension.  There is a real consistency to the feel throughout.

Rakie Ayola (Goneril) and Debbie Korley (Regan) are tightly manipulative and controlling as the two sisters.  Miltos Yerolemou (The Fool) is a perfect pairing with Lear, to both contrast and highlight the King’s madness.  Alfred Enoch (Edgar) balances the chaos and manipulation of the play with innocence and compassion for his father.

At three and a half hours including interval this is a long play.  But right from the start the director sets his own pace, and maintains it consistently, creating subtle ebbs and flows through the story.  The time is needed to tell the complete story and if you’re engaged, it passes quickly.

This is a powerful, well paced and true version of the classic Shakespeare play, with strong direction and one of the best casts you’ll see at the Royal Exchange.


Photo Jonathan Keenan

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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