Shakespeare's Globe presents a traditional "King Lear" with a few odd ripples in time
Shakespeare's Globe is visiting The Broad Stage with a traditional depiction of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the tragic tale of the true meaning of love, the art of duplicity, and lessons about what it truly means to be wise. For members of Shakespeare's Globe, Shakespeare is a way of life, and studying the origins and details of every play is a daily routine. Which is why you would think that a troupe of directors, headed by Bill Buckhurst, heavily experienced in all things Shakespeare, would attempt to put a definable, interesting spin on the play.
This is however, not to say that the individual performances from the actors were not impressive. They were simply encompassed by a miscellaneous drawer of costumes, time periods, and set pieces.
Surprisingly, for all you people who grew up with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” back in the mid-nineties, and still wake up with re-runs today, the part of Lear was played by Geoffrey, the butler, Joseph Marcell.
If Alfonso Riberio, who played Carlton Banks on the show, can get on “Dancing With The Stars” and pull out “The Carlton” dance move, then the already British Marcell can surely transition onto stage.
He plays a splendid Lear, though perhaps with a solid 80 percent of his lines being plainly shouted. His most touching and raw moments come forth through the scene of Cordelia’s death. Marcell's wails and presentation of her lifeless body were a scorching expression of raw pain.
Other avid actors of Shakespeare's Globe joined Marcell. Bethan Cullinane and Gwendolen Chatfiel delivered particularly memorable performances.
Cullinane made her debut last year as the same character from this tour, Cordelia, Lear’s favorite daughter, and the Fool, Lear’s personal jester. She shines brightest as the Fool, toying with the script’s language and its delivery to the fullest extent.
Common for this play, Cullinane played Cordelia as well as the Fool. This is convenient in that they never appear on stage together, economic considering their small cast, and potent in that both are the only characters that never conceal the truth.
This production interpreted Cordelia as a war leader, a common depiction of her for the 20th century, apparent when she re-emerges in the final scenes holding a sword for battle, wearing the king’s crown. The more interesting connection Cullinane has with Lear, however, comes forth most in the warm and humorous interpretation of the Fool.
Chatfield primarily played the part of Goneril, one of Lear’s daughters who utilizes her greed to try to acquire the most land from her father’s heritage. Chatfield plays a magnetic and entirely biting performance as Goneril, as she attempts to sneer and slither her way to the top of the food chain. The part of Goneril is already a strong and visceral female lead, no doubt a foreshadow to Shakespeare’s next leading lady, Lady Macbeth, one of, if not his most, cunning and powerful female roles. Chatfield gives us this foreshadowed character and much more.
Since this was a cast of only eight, multiple characters wore multiple hats, represented both by slight costume change and major accent change. They realistically incorporated the hierarchy of accents and status (Yorkshire accents versus Cockney), a large part of social ranking in British society.
If there was an interpretation, it was as schizophrenic as Lear’s character is legendarily perceived to be. Staying traditionally tied to the script, the performance attempted to create its own setting, costumes, and time period, all of which visibly contradicted each other continuously.
The base of the costumes looked moderately British 1910’s-1930's, perhaps even slightly Austrian, but male characters carried swords to better interact with lines that specifically referenced them. Characters of noble birth wore long garments reminiscent of Elizabethan times, combined with hats and spectacles more commonly worn in the 20th century. Soldiers were dressed for the crusades, nobles were mainly dressed for the 1500’s, and the peasants and servants were dressed for the 1910’s. Pick one and run with it, don’t pick all of them.
There was no clear indication where this version of "King Lear" took place, with the exception of the context already set in the script, pre-Christian Britain. The stage performance only gave way to a fortress of wood and rope composed like the inside of the top deck of a fisherman’s boat.
The onstage fighting, often a tricky part of a Shakespeare play to pull off, was so squeamishly cheesy. Fighting in plays often feels inauthentic because of spacial limitations, somewhat applicable to the Globe's performance, and a lack of viscousness. Both problems seriously reared their heads in the performance. What really made the fight scenes so painful was indeed every character's moment of overacted and wholly lame death, whether by sword or personal leave. Gag me.
There is also something to be said about the actors’ presentation of Shakespearean language and delivery of the lines. Of course, some directors want to see the play carried out in a manner as close to the original performers as possible.
But the reality about Shakespearean plays is that it truly is a different language. The only way to fully understand what’s happening and all of the beauties of the manipulation of language is to read the plays beforehand. Otherwise, it’s so easy to get lost during a performance.
If there was any visible interpretation of the story’s meaning and depiction, it came to the audience before and after the show. Ushers handed out tied up paper scrolls asking audience members to anonymously provide a piece of wisdom to their younger or future self, since so much of Lear is about perceived wisdom and letters. Multiple people provided common universal advice like “be happy”, “admit defeat”, and “reject fear”. Some imparted wisdom specifically about not going into debt while others presented enigmatic, somewhat manic, but funny additions such as, “Ha! You fool!”
This interactive interpretation of the play's meaning made far more of an impact than most of the actual play, bringing to life simple important themes and take away messages.
Shakespeare is every company or stage’s attempt at legitimacy, and putting on a primarily solid performance of a typical or even non-typical of William’s many plays is a point of prestige and definition. Since these plays have been seen and read globally since they were ever written, the interpretation is entirely crucial, whether you’re in a stage company or attempting Shakespeare on film.
Paying for a ticket to see a Shakespeare play, often purchased by some for the sheer love of the language and story-telling, better be a new and unique way to tell the story. I don’t care where your troupe is touring.
Shakespeare Globe's production of "King Lear" will be performed a the Broad Stage until Nov. 16.