King Lear at the Theatre Royal, Bath

Bath Chronicle, 7th June 2016, Nancy Connolly

Renowned Shakespearean actor, Michael Pennington, 73, is deeply moving in the role, it is even sadder than usual, and he brings an extra humanity to the play.

We see a lonely old man battling not only the raging storm, but the onset of dementia and the cruelty of his younger offspring.

Pennington’s Lear seems to humanise the King more, we see the man not King, he is vulnerable, he is old, he has dementia and he ends up without a home and battling a tortuous storm.

We know it is largely his fault, we know he is vain, we know he is impetuous but the genius of Shakespeare means there is never a moment in the play when the audience does not sympathise with him.

It is all very relevant for a 2016 audience. At a time when we are all living longer (or taking longer to die) old age and how we are treated by our children has never been more contentious, and this is how it is interpreted for this new production by Northampton’s Royal and Derngate Theatre.

“I gave you all,” cries Lear to his avaricious daughters Regan and Goneril after prematurely handing over his lands and fortunes to them.

Pennington gives a heartwarming performance as a “foolish old man” thrown out by his children. The storm scene works really well, with great sound and visual effects and is almost frightening at times.

We cry with Lear when he caresses the blinded Gloucester, two tragic old men, and when he befriends Edgar disguised as a base beggar and particularly when he puts his arms around his “poor fool” and tells him he has “pit yet for thee”.

We cry when the old king, is heart finally broken, enters the stage with his beloved youngest daughter Cordelia, dead in his arms, the final blow.

Ensemble characters almost fade into obscurity in the shadow of Pennington’s stalwart performance.

Set in the early 1900’s, characters wear either suits or tailored clothes, ad the set by Adrian Linford towers over them with concrete walls and stark lighting.

Catherine Bailey gives a robust performance as Goneril, and Beth Cooke plays Cordelia as the boy Lear never had, but it is Pennington’s unbelievable tireless performance as the man who lost everything which is the highlight of this production.

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