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King Lear

Liverpool Everyman, 5 November 2008

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Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website

Pete Postlethwaite’s return to the Everyman as Lear is a triumph. The principal actor carries the play, but he relies on the cast to provide meaningful interactions, creating cohesion in what might otherwise be a rather disjointed and wildly swinging narrative. Mission accomplished – the result was a night of electrifying theatre.

The Everyman theatre has its limitations as a performance space, but artistic director Rupert Goold played to its strengths – bringing the action into the heart of the audience – while Giles Cadle’s minimal set of weedy steps and corrugated iron backdrop complemented the action to powerful effect. Clever use of back projection provided context and setting, augmenting the battles scenes in particular.

The opening scene was playfully enacted – the division of Lear’s lands executed as three-dimensional models parcelled up in glass cases ready for presentation. This is Lear in his element – swaggering, bullying, shamelessly courting flattery. A microphone handed to each daughter in turn heightens the awkwardness of the moment in which Lear demands to know the extent of their love.


Fine supporting performances from John Shrapnel as Gloucester and the two sisters, played with wicked relish by Caroline Faber as Goneril and Charlotte Randle as Regan, left the audience in no doubt as to where their sympathies should lie. Although Edmund played by Jonjo O’Neill was unconvincing in the first act, he seemed to find his stride in the second, growing into the role of usurper and manipulator. 

The fool, brilliantly played by Forbes Masson, provided moments of both humour and pathos. His dismay as he tried to persuade Lear to take shelter from the storm was deeply moving.

Tobias Menzies switched from the shrewd and sensitive Edgar to ‘Poor Tom’ with impressive facility. His alarming ticks and verbal assaults providing a terrific counterpoint to Postlethewaite’s more understated portrayal of madness. The intimacy of the theatre allowed Postlethwaite to show with great subtlety Lear’s decline from powerful king, to frail and pitiable old man. His madness was one of bewilderment – the familiar becoming incomprehensible and threatening.

30 October to 29 November

Margaret Murphy

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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