Theatre review - King Lear, Opera House Manchester


none - Credit: Archant

A brutally honest performance of King Lear at Opera House Manchester leaves the audience in no doubt of why we still celebrate Shakespeare 400 years on

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most studied and oft played tragedies. There’s a good reason for this – it’s brilliant.

A dazzling weave of storylines, in King Lear Shakespeare takes us on a tour of madness, jealousy, lust, greed and innocence…where nobody wins.

Lear, played here by four-time Olivier Award nominee Michael Pennington, is shown in all his distasteful glory as a selfish, greedy, arrogant old man seeking adoration from all who surround him – and paying the price for his shallow acceptance of hyperbole from his two eldest daughters. Pennington deftly shows us the descent of Lear from all-powerful monarch to childish old man, playing the fool with his 100 men, and eventually to madman, raving against the storm that has beset him.

Daughters Regan and Goneril, who pandered to their father’s need for adulation, soon become tired of his expensive retirement - which rather resembles a seriously overblown stag party - and lead the audience into sympathy with their demand that he cut his retinue in two, and again, and again…as Goneril says:

What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,

To follow in a house where twice so many

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Here Lear really throws his toys from the pram and storms off into the night - yet his daughters retain our sympathy…if but briefly. Regan and Goneril, played with skill and admirably fierce attitude by Sally Scott and Catherine Bailey, soon show their true colours – dad can freeze in the night, they have their eyes on something (someone) to warm their beds, the bitter, manipulative Edmund.

I have a clear recollection of wishing Shakespeare had named the Gloucester brothers sufficiently differently that I wouldn’t muddle them up when studying for my A Level. There’s no muddling in this play – the illegitimate son is sufficiently visibly villainous to satisfy the most demanding of audiences, though I could have done without his odd and repeated bending and looming. Edgar is dashing and naive (and has a fine physique, ladies, even when mud spattered and rag-adorned) but perhaps overplays his feigned madness just a touch; his speech is hard to follow and too easy to tune out from, unfortunately.

Overall this is a great performance of a great play and one which any fan of our most celebrated playwright will enjoy. Grab a ticket now, before it’s all over.