A Performance to Treasure…in Salford

Our Education and Projects Director David Smith has been to the theatre again, but this time to a sell out performance in Salford…

Went to see a play about an old man and his three daughters in Salford. No; it wasn’t ‘Hobsons’ Choice’ – but close….

I went to see ‘King Lear’ at the Lowry – six performances in a 1,700 seat theatre in Salford sold out for Shakespeare!

It was a touring Donmar Warehouse production and did they make the audience work hard! But the cast had to work hard themselves…It was the barest stage I have seen in years; in three hours the only props were a map, a joint stool and a chair! It meant listening, focusing hard on the language; terrific weight of responsibility on the cast in how they handled the language of the play because each scene had to be created through the language. The set – huge walls of monolithic looking ‘distressed’ planks which extend to cover the stage floor – had a feel of a period outside any historical time that we know.

Lear is a foolish old man who breaks up his kingdom and gives it away yet doesn’t understand that in giving his kingdom away his kingship goes with it.

He divides it between two of his daughters leaving his youngest without her rightful share.

It is an incredibly strong cast with a Fool who shows his love for Lear, whilst understanding the harm Lear has done. It is just one of a number of painful contradictions in the play.

But, like all the great tragedies, the play demands a great central performance if we are going to stay in our seats for three hours. Derek Jacobi delivers. He moves from the absolute tyrant who revels in the sycophantic flattery of two of his children whist throwing himself into an incandescent rage at his youngest daughter who speaks the unacceptable truth. He reveals an inner fear of the onset of madness before exposing the torture of a mind breaking and then shows moments of clarity of his perception of his own and the human condition when he is exposed and powerless.

This production offers the most moving climax to a Shakespearean tragedy I have ever seen. A great cry of despair from Lear as he enters carrying the body of his youngest daughter Cordelia. As he lays her on the ground testing her breath with a feather across her lips the whole theatre was silent; 1,700 hundred people so quiet the silence was tangible –an audience hardly breathing until the old man’s heart cracks and we hear the rattle of death in his throat…

A performance to treasure…and in Salford.


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