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David Warner gives the performance of a lifetime in Chichester's King Lear

Review by David Munro

THE current production of King Lear at Chichester makes the assumption that the audience are familiar with the play because if they are not, they will find it very difficult to follow what is supposed to be happening.

The programme gives no synopsis nor any indication as to where the action is taking place.

What was good enough for Shakespeare’s groundlings is, presumably, in the director Stephen Pimlott’s view, good enough for West Sussex but I found the comings and goings, to-ings and fro-ings at times reminiscent of Beyond The Fringe’s irreverent parody of the Shakespearean histories.

This is a pity as in David Warner you have, probably, the best Lear of this generation or the last.

This is no ranting old fool but a man whose humanity and compassion is cruelly exploited by those around him making sense for once of the devotion and loyalty shown to him by his entourage.

He is articulate, audible (which is more than could be said for some of the cast) and authoritative.

A performance which towers over and dominates the rest of the cast making you feel for him and with him.

His scenes with the fool (another excellent performance by John Ramm) have the humanity and pathos the author intended and which is so often lost when the Lear is played by a Shakespearean 'star' flexing his thespian muscles in the part .

This is a very real, betrayed father, a man overtaken by injustice he could not have foreseen and the realisation of which shatters his self-esteem and, finally, his reason.

It is a plausible, pathetic performance that carries you along with it for the period of the play and remains with you afterwards as well.

When you have a Lear as magnificent as David Warner I suppose one shouldn’t cavil that the rest of the cast fall below his standards as, with few exceptions, they sadly do.

The exceptions are John Ramm’s Fool, Michael Thomas’s Kent and Jo Stone Fewing’s Edgar all of whom make their parts and their scenes with Warner tell.

Luckily, their scenes with Lear promote the narrative and make sense of what is, in essence, a confusing plot which is made the more inscrutable by the inaudibility of some of the other characters.

His daughters, Goneril and Regan, were a couple of Cruella de Villes who had lost their Dalmatians and the plot.

Their performances were as about as plausible as their avowals of love for their father - hollow and unconvincing, as was Stephen Noonan ‘s Victorian melodramatic villain, Edmond; they and David Warner seemed to be in two different plays.

Richard O’Callagham’s Gloucester was unconvincing in the earlier scenes but his performance picked up as the play progressed and his final scenes with Edgar were effective and moving.

As always, one comes back to David Warner; he is worth the visit to Chichester alone. When he is on stage you forget the imperfections of the production, the ugly modernistic costumes and revel in the pleasure his performance engenders.

I had never thought to enjoy a performance of Lear so much as he is a very tedious and difficult character with which to empathise.

Not any more, David Warner has opened my eyes as to how effective a part it is when in the hands of a great actor and I strongly recommend that you do not miss it.

Take advantage of the promised good weather, head for the south coast, have a meal in the Theatre’s excellent Chic Café and enjoy one of the performances of a lifetime. It is a trip well worth taking

King Lear by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Stephen Pimlott.
Designer – Alison Chitty.
Lighting – Paul Fyant.
Sound – Adam Cork.
Fight director – Malcolm Ranson.
CAST: David Warner; Michael Thomas; Richard O’Callaghan; Stephen Noonan; Lou Gish; Kay Curram; Zoe Waites; Raad Rawi; Brendan O’ Hea; Mark Meadows; Aleksander Mikic; Jo Stone-Fewings; Daniel Abelson; Tom Silburn; John Ramm; Barry McCarthy.
Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
In Repertory until Saturday, September 10
Matinees – Thursday 2.15pm
Evenings - 7.15pm.
Box Office: 01243 781312

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