Every Inch a King

What’s this? Me thinking I’m a theatre critic?  How dare I? Well, of course, this isn’t really a critical review merely a comment on my feelings after seeing ‘King Lear’ at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last evening.


23 September 2011  to 22 October 2011


King Lear abdicates the British throne, to divide his kingdom among his three daughters in proportion to their professed love of him. When Cordelia, his youngest and favourite daughter, refuses to flatter her father; she is disinherited and banished. 

King Lear, with its intense exploration of kinship, loyalty, old-age and madness is widely held as the greatest of Shakespeare’s tragedies; to some, it is the greatest play ever written.

 Award-winning stage, film and television actor Tim Pigott-Smith will perform the title role, directed by West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director Ian Brown.

Picture and Resumé from The West Yorkshire Playhouse website.

Over 25 years ago (is it really that long?) a dear friend, Mrs Wright, Snr., asked if I’d like to join her and subscribe to a season of plays at The Leeds Playhouse (as it was then). Of course, I did, and we have never looked back! Through the births of our children and various other upheavals we’ve stuck with our commitment and missed very few plays. In 1990 the old Leeds Playhouse was replaced by the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the ticketing became more complicated but we just stuck with our original plan and booked the longer running plays.

Yesterday evening we attended the last but one evening performances of King Lear. I don’t know whether this play will move to other theatres or even to The West End but it was a magnificent production and if you get the chance and enjoy Shakespeare – go see it! Tim Pigott-Smith (of ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ fame) stars in the title role. The final performance at Leeds is halfway through as I type.

The play opens strongly in reds and blacks and greys and there is no doubt who is in power and what form that power takes – it is King Lear and the power is absolute! Fast forward towards the end of the play and we see a desolate, senile and bereft Lear cradling his dead daughter Cordelia and we feel as exhausted, as surely the actors must do, with tragedy of it all.

Cordelia is played by Olivia Morgan. It’s her very first professional stage debut. How good is that?! To me it showed but was all the better for the ‘naivety’ – is that the right word? I think I read somewhere that Cordelia has just 120 lines but she’s pivotal to the play.

Photo : James Garnon [Mercutio] in the Globe’s 2004 Romeo and Juliet ( globe-education.org )

All evening I couldn’t get out of my mind of whom James Garnon (Edmund) reminded me. I checked the programme when I got home, found that he performed in Howard Brenton’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ at Shakespeare’s Globe which I saw in the summer and realised straightaway that he was James I. He is definitely one to watch.


8 comments on “Every Inch a King

  1. Oh King Lear, a real favourite Barbara. We went to see it at the Globe where they did Gloucester’s eyes with real gusto! Looking forward to your theatre crits on here too.

  2. Thanks, Lynne. I don’t think I’d seen Lear before but you reminded me of the fact that every version of each Shakespeare play differs from the next. We’d never say ‘Oh I’ve seen that one’ because the next interpretation would be so different. I expect you are on the mailing list for the Globe where they intend to present 37 plays in 37 languages. It’s fun just playing on the shuffler :

  3. Simon T says:

    I’ve never seen King Lear, and didn’t get on with it when I read it… could I make myself go and see it? Well, if anything could, your review would persuade me!

  4. I’ve never read it, I know it wouldn’t suit everyone and I hesitated before booking (did I really want to see a tragedy for an evening’s entertainment?) but am so glad to have seen it.

  5. Marie-Noëlle says:

    I ‘ve never seen King Lear and haven’t read it either !
    I’ve seen little Shakespeare but have read some (in English).
    I ‘ve seen Richard III. The so-called “first tetralogy”. That was ages ago. At Lyon. During the summer festival at the Roman theatre. 8 hours long including 2 30-minute breaks. In French. A fantastic performance !!!
    I will always remember the event !!!

  6. Thank you for this response, Marie Noelle. And thank you for the link to the wonderful amphitheatre in Lyon. The thing about France is that generally the summer weather is so much better than it is here. I always think that our rotten summer weather here in Yorkshire seems to date back to when outdoor evening theatre performances first became popular! I’ve seen Shakespeare performed in such atmospheric surroundings as Kirkstall and Fountains Abbey ruins and at Newby Hall but the weather has on most occasions spoiled the idyllic evening. On the other hand I have been lucky to see fine performances outdoors at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London in equally fine weather!

  7. Barbara I’m in London at the moment and met up with a school friend I hadn’t seen for 40 years yesterday and we were talking about the Globe series to come & how thankfully school hadn’t put us off the Bard. Apparently there will be a play done in BSL . We reckoned some of them might as well have been in a foreign language when we were 14 but somehow we still managed to get the gist, so thought the same would apply to this series which looks like great value.

  8. I hope you are enjoying your visit to town, Lynne. I’m very surprised that I too wasn’t put off Shakespeare at school. I may end up booking just one of these shows – so intriguing! BSL though would be a bit quiet.

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