This year's sixth form Shakespeare production was, by all accounts, a great success. The play in question was King Lear, a masterpiece in tragedy and from the offset an imposing challenge for its cast and production team. However, the challenge was easily surmounted by its directors Phoebe Ruttle and Charlie Albuery, resulting in four excellent performances on the 2nd and 3rd July.
In my opinion, the exciting use of promenade theatre is what made this production so special. The opportunity to use the Square Tower, the Hot Walls and the Round Tower was by no means wasted. The audience followed the drama from space to space as the scenes unfolded. This made the piece highly atmospheric and gave the actors a unique way to engage with the audience.
Being outside for parts of the production was very risky. There were a number of factors which could have threatened the piece; the weather, noisy traffic, noisy public, the weather. Nevertheless, it paid off. The sun shone continuously, roaring motorbikes were absent and the worst danger that we faced during a performance was an intense game of bowls that was being played slightly too near to the final scenes. The general public dealt very well with our invasion of the Hot Walls; there were only a few confused glances at the shouting and the costumes, although the manacles attracted slightly more attention.
The part of Lear in King Lear is notoriously difficult, because the character is remarkably complicated. Lear represents the downward spiral of madness, as well as the complexity and vulnerability of old age. It is unquestioned by many professionals that Lear can only be played by truly aged actors. Simon Beale's casting in the recent National Theatre production was deemed controversial because Beale was only fifty-three years old. Fortunately, we had Lewis Mackenzie at the ripe old age of seventeen. He put on an outstanding performance. Watching him act as Lear, it becomes very easy to forget his age as he hobbles after the elusive mouse or explodes with grief over Cordelia's dead body. Lewis transitioned from a strong, loud King into a broken old man over he course of the play, slowly losing control over Lear's madness as the scenes progressed.
His interactions with his daughters were simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Goneril and Regan, played by Emma Read and Lottie Kent respectively, were wonderfully cold and unforgiving. This was directly contrasted with Phoebe Ruttle's strong but compassionate Cordelia, another brilliant interpretation of a well-known character. There is one scene that must be mentioned for its slick execution, the eye-gouging scene. It was so smooth that the true horror of the scene was completely immersive. One audience member shrieked as the the first eye was plucked from Gloucester's eye and thrown into the crowd.
This interpretation of King Lear went to the core of the play. It would have been impossible for the sixth form to deliver an uncut version of Shakespeare's original script. Unabridged the play can run for more than four hours. Instead, we opted for version which kept us within the hour limit on our performance. The shortened script allowed the cast to spend more time on how the lines were acted, rather than merely grappling with the meaning of the lengthier Shakespearian passages. The modern costume also lended itself to this reading of the play, it meant that the audience wouldn't become distracted by frills and they had to focus on what was being said rather than shown.
It's impossible for me to give a completely impartial review of this play, because of my personal involvement. I can say that everyone I know who went to see it thoroughly enjoyed themselves, in as much as you can enjoy a tragedy. The novel setting brought a whole new element to the performance which helped make it a pleasure to be a part of. If the audience appreciated our play half as much as we enjoyed performing it then it was definitely a success.
Photographs by Jason Baker