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King Lear

William Shakespeare
Galleon Theatre Company at Greenwich Playhouse
(2004)

Any production of a Shakespeare play is an ambitious undertaking, and King Lear is more ambitious than most, particularly in the emotional journey the actor playing the title character must undertake. Oliver Bradshaw, now in his 70s, has risen admirably to the challenge -- he performs the role with touching vulnerability, and with a welcome absence of histrionics. His voice is gravelly and deep (bass, but not base, as one local newspaper review, displayed outside the theatre, describes it!), with a touch of Donald Sinden in it. His mannerisms are gentlemanly and endearing, so that one feels genuine sympathy for him in the way his cruel daughters behave towards him.

The supporting cast is equally strong, though with some unexpected casting in places. Tom Stuart seems almost too nice and clean-cut as Edmund, though one should not expect an evil nature to be reflected in evil looks. His brother Edgar, played by Jackson Wright, looks more ambiguous in character at first sight, but is just right for the distracted Poor Tom. And a welcome newcomer to the London theatre is Grae Cleugh, a successful playwright as well as an actor, playing an interesting Albany with a Scottish accent.

As one would expect from such a long play, there are some cuts to the text, as well as a few apparent modernisations to make the Fool's jokes a little more intelligible. There were also some puzzling changes that seemed less logical, for example 'Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter' became 'Sir, I do love you more than words can wield the matter', and 'With plumèd helm thy slayer begins threats' sounded something like 'With plumèd helm thy standard ... ...', which didn't make sense. But these were minor glitches, only momentarily distracting.

The Greenwich Playhouse are doing a great job of presenting Shakespeare's plays in this intimate space: I saw an excellent Richard III here a couple of years ago, and Troika Productions will be bringing their Hamlet for a week in February (17-22). The audience for King Lear was the biggest I've seen here for a Sunday matinée, and I can highly recommend the experience.

"King Lear" runs until 15th February

Reviewer: Gill Stoker