King Lear

William Shakespeare
Almeida Theatre / Digital Theatre

Jonathan Pryce as King Lear

Like it or not, just as the cinema is not the only place to see a film, the theatre is no longer the only place to see theatre—in fact cinema is one of the places we can now see great theatre from, perhaps, thousands of miles away as live cinema broadcasts, which have been around for decades, have suddenly taken off in a big way.

Of course there have been TV broadcasts, videos and DVDs of stage productions for many years, but the quality has usually been poor, making the viewer feel like an unwelcome spectator with a consolation prize for not getting to see the actual show. However a combination of better technology with the money and the will to give the home viewer a better experience has resulted in better DVD recordings and high quality downloads from services such as Digital Theatre.

The latest Digital Theatre offering—and the first I have seen—is Michael Attenborough's King Lear for the Almeida last year with Jonathan Pryce in the title role. This is a sensible choice of venue for such a recording as it is small and intimate, and so we're not seeing close-ups of actors projecting to the back of a 2,000-seat auditorium.

The cameras stay close to the action so that we do not see the stage lights or the edges of the scenery, and audible audience reactions are limited to faint laughter in the few points in Lear that warrant it and applause at the end. This makes it more like a decent quality TV play than a filmed theatre production—in fact considerably better quality in terms of production values than the old BBC Shakespeare series.

The production has already been reviewed by BTG London editor Philip Fisher, and it works for camera as well as it did for the live audience. Pryce gives a stunning performance as Lear, but he also has a great supporting cast, including Clive Wood as Gloucester, Phoebe Fox as an appealing Cordelia, Jenny Jules and Zoe Waites as the warring sisters Regan and Goneril and Kieran Bew and Richard Goulding as warring half-brothers Edmund and Edgar.

Tom Scutt's design takes a vaguely medieval take on the costumes with a more recent look to the distressed brickwork for the walls, all of which looks convincingly real in the unsympathetic eye of the HD camera lens and is lit beautifully by Jon Clark.

The recording is available to download in both standard and high definitions and also for rental, which will time out after a certain length of time. The HD version is a 3GB download for the 2¾-hour video, so make sure the download limit on your Internet service is sufficient before putting it into your basket.

This is a very well-made recording of a production that deserves to be seen more widely, although it is a pity it can only be watched through Digital Theatre's rather basic propriety software and not on a TV. But if a production can move me to tears on a laptop, then it is certainly something that deserves a longer life than its limited run in the theatre could offer.

Available now from Digital Theatre.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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