The Malachites Theatre Company has the aim of reuniting Shakespeare to its Shoreditch roots accompanying the development of his writing. Now they bring us King Lear at the wonderful and eerie site: Peckham Asylum, an old chapel that naturally makes a quite artistic set. If there is one thing that this company and the director Benjamin Blyth know, it’s how to understand Shakespeare and bring it to life in the real and down-to-earth manner it should be done. Often Shakespeare in this country is made for the intellectual few, when what his plays really delve into are human relationships and this can be known and understood by the most plain unknowledgeable human being.
If there is one word in which I could describe my experience when watching this play it would be the word cold. Not only the physical sensation as the room is freezing, but the coldness that becomes part of the story. It is engrained in it, in their relationships mostly devoid of genuine love and warmth. Deceit, hypocrisy, conspiracy and futile relationships, all in the quest of power, make these characters cold – this can chill one’s soul when watching. Consequently, the few acts of true love make a genuine impact as they are scarce.
Lear strikes me as a spoiled king, who wants to have his way, as it would be normal for a king. He is not just a victim and that is what makes this character the more interesting. John McEnery’s performance is powerful as he is able to bring the different sides of Lear to life: I can see the pampered child, the fragile man, the powerful king, the commanding father and the hopeless madman. It is a shame though that McEnery is using the script in the second half as it clips the tension and meaning of such important and intense scenes. I understand the parallel made by Blyth of the ageing actor struggling to remember his lines and the king struggling to maintain his sanity, but it is just plain to see how awkward it is for the audience and the actors on stage, the interrupting of the action to go through the script looking for the line. I do not blame McEnery at all, unfortunately in the theatre industry we currently live in, that does not afford to pay its actors, it is impossible to dedicate enough time to decent rehearsal hours hence the load of work and stress put on actors grows to oversized proportions. But that is another topic.
The whole cast does a tremendous job in the storytelling by creating compelling and three-dimensional characters. Claire Dyson’s Goneril, the eldest daughter, is a force of nature, with an incredible stage presence, always just in her delivery and with a captivating timbre of voice – everything an actress would hope for. Phoebe McBee successfully embodies a fascinatingly strong Regan and Nick Finnegan a cold machiavellian Edmund. Samuel Clifford makes a precise and endearing Fool, his movement and energy are so sharp I could watch him for another hour even without understanding every word. Oswald is definitely one of the joys of my evening, as this incredibly arrogant character becomes comical in the ways of the gifted Edmund Sage-Green. Overall, there is an excellent delivery of the meaning in the text and good physical presence. Great work as well from the music team, creating an eerie atmosphere that fits the action perfectly.
I must say I am a bit confused on the relation that is intended to exist between the actors and the audience – the “theatre walls” disappear in some monologues and even during a few scenes as quickly as they would reappear in some of the others. When creating such proximity and alluding to Brechtian techniques during the play it would make sense the complete dilution of theatre illusion – it would perhaps make the line searching less awkward.
This play definitely will give you something to talk about, something to think about, and that is the purpose of what aims to be good theatre – so do catch its final performances but be sure to know you might end up with a freezing body and soul. 4/5
Review written by Sofia Moura.
King Lear was on at the Peckham Asylum until Thursday 5th March. For more information on the Malachites Theatre Company, visit here…