“King Lear” at the Cockpit Theatre

Last night’s press evening for the Darker Purpose Theatre Company’s King Lear was filled with emotion. It’s a collaboration between young director Lewis Reynolds and seasoned RSC pro David Ryall in the lead role. Sadly, a course of chemotherapy has left the well-respected actor’s memory so affected that he carried a copy of the text as an aid.

Ill health has not diminished Ryall’s commanding stage presence or the wonderful timbre of his voice but it seems unfair to review a performance that was clearly – no matter how brave and generous – an effort. Nonetheless, Reynold’s intelligent production offers much to the discerning theatregoer. The direction is considered and confident and handles staging in the round particularly well. It’s also remarkably calm and quiet, serving as an interesting comparison with the National Theatre’s current blockbuster show.

Reynold’s emphasis is on the “madmen and fools” of the play, and Ryan Wichert stands out as a spirited fool, putting a megaphone to great use, while Dominic Kelly gives a sterling performance as his Edgar takes on the persona of Poor Tom. Tension between these two roles is brought out and it was one of the few productions in which I actually missed the fool after his sudden departure.

King Lear at The Cockpit Theatre
Nikki Leigh Scott and Ian Hallard

Although not all of the performances are as even as might be wished, there’s good work from the wicked sisters Goneril and Regan, with Wendy Morgan developing her role nicely and Nikki Leigh Scott joined in convincing villainy by Ian Hallard as Cornwall.

The production also has the coup of seeing Ryall joined by two of his daughters. Imogen Ryall appears in the small role of the Doctor and Charlie Ryall is Cordelia. Both give understated performances in keeping with the tone of the evening – and powerful as a result. Concern for their father’s health has an extra, unwished for, charge given the circumstances. Sincere wishes for Mr Ryall’s quick recovery.

Until 29 March 2014

www.thecockpit.org.uk

Photos by Robert Workman

Written 12 March 2014 for The London Magazine

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