In William Shakespeare’s special anniversary year 2016, the festival proudly presented Melvyn Bragg’s KING LEAR IN NEW YORK, a play especially re-written and adapted for the festival by this internationally renowned presenter, broadcaster, author and playwright (and now festival patron). Here’s the story in our time with Melvyn Bragg told through images, reviews, plus a special Thank You letter from the author himself.
Festival Commissions in 2016 included: a new partnership with Norwich High School For Girls and BBC Radio Norfolk, a fascinating and informative annual live radio debate entitled INSPIRING WOMEN In The Arts In Norfolk. Festival patron Peter Wilson took up our invite to return to the stage, astounding everyone with a perfectly delivered rendition of TS ELIOT’S FOUR QUARTETS (complete) directed with such clarity by David Banks. We initiated a partnership with Mustard TV, creating a platform for older people to prove that “IT’S NEVER TOO LATE” to try something new. A NORFOLK HOME COMPANION music cabaret returned by popular demand, alongside a second showing of Lady Macbeth Is Dead with celebrated Norfolk opera singer Lisa Cassidy.
REVIEW FOR Melvyn Bragg’s KING LEAR IN NEW YORK, HOSTRY FESTIVAL. 26th October 2016
“When Melvyn Bragg’s take on Lear was premiered at the Chichester Festival in 1992, the star of the Southbank Show met mixed reviews.
24 years and four redrafts later, the play is in better shape. It can currently be seen at the Hostry Festival at Norwich Cathedral, where an annual gathering of top notch theatre professionals come together to share expertise and experience, and to perform the works that inspire them.
Director Stash Kirkbride was not put off by lack of critical acclaim when he saw the original production. As the guest of much mourned actress Kate O’Mara he developed an enduring love for the piece. A chance meeting with Bragg was the seed for this show’s timely revival.
Kirkbride has re-tuned the script to fever pitch. He brings us an evening that is as jittery and electric as a Shakespearian storm. Robert is a one-time Manhattan celebrity who is preparing to play Lear. Louis Hilyer’s interpretation reveals him as a likeable fellow with a good heart whose life is a charming, if rather dangerous, shambles. This is a performance worth seeing just for itself. His chaotic sentiments are intimately conveyed.
We know that Robert has played Lear before, and that it is a defining role for him. We also know that he is busy rehearsing it again and that he hopes that it will effect some kind of transformation in his life. But the real nitty-gritty of how Shakespeare’s story triggers change in him is largely left to us to surmise.
The centre of this play, just as the seminal performance it prepares, is happening slightly out of view.
Is this a fault or a strength? I’m inclined to see it as the latter. The excellent cast have a firm grip on where the story is going and why they behave as they do. And if our eye has been subtly drawn away from the main gist, it takes us away from the darkness that lies at the core of Shakespeare’s tale. So unlike most Lear inspired works, the piece is oddly uplifting and even funny.
Bragg’s excellent dialogue is full of vivid lines. In a heated exchange during one of Robert’s alcoholic binges his ex-wife comments that the chemical is starting to have its usual effect, his response ‘why do you talk to me like I’m a test tube?’ is memorably witty. The vengeful ex played by Rebecca Aldred, is a two-faced and sexy character, reminiscent of Regan. Other excellent quips place the play firmly in its late eighties setting: ‘she enlarges the hole in the ozone layer of decency’, describes toxic TV talk show host, Jackie (Rebecca Chapman) to perfection.
To end this review without mentioning the touching performance from Peter Barrow as Alec, Robert’s exasperated and long-suffering brother, would be unfair. But the last word must surely be saved for the actor’s daughter – a character who easily shrugs on the mantle of a contemporary Cordelia. Nina Taylor steals the stage as the mixed up but honest girl, trying her hardest to make sense of a father she loves in a world she hates.”
Freelance critic for the Eastern Daily Press, Mustard TV, and the Daily Telegraph