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The Madness of King Lear
Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012
4

4 stars

C venues - C (venue website)
Theatre
1-13, 15-27 Aug, 5:30pm-6:30pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

I’m going to say two things now, and give you a minute to try and morph them together. Heavy metal and Shakespeare. Has your brain contorted itself into a pretzel trying to work that one out? Mine has: CW Productions have done a bang up job in befuddling me, but luckily for them, they’ve also done a bang up job entertaining me too.

This play is not for a first-timer, nor is it for the staunch traditionalists of Shakespearean theatre. I should also point out that if you’re squeamish about gore or sexual themes, you can save yourself £11.50. While the rating is technically PG (and the company is quick to point out a review where an eight year old loved the show), I found it somewhat perverse and grotesque at times – visualise scenes where a character’s eyeballs are ripped out, or another memorable one where Lear essentially masturbates on stage.

However, if you’re particularly keen to see something as far from the norm as possible, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this show. It’s utterly innovative. Even through its few flaws, CW Productions prove that they have guts, and that they’re willing to walk the talk.

The highlight of this production is undoubtedly the quality of the performances. The acting is, quite simply, exceptional. Leof Kinsford-Smith’s effortless transition between Lear’s various states of mind was impressive. The inclusion of clowning too was effective and provided a refreshing level of complexity, while the elements of audience interaction were brilliant, and didn’t seem contrived in the slightest (as they so often can in theatre).

That’s not to say it was perfect. King Lear didn’t so much descend into madness as revel in existing insanity, which was a character choice I didn’t quite agree with. At times, the music was too loud, and proved to be an unfortunate distraction from the otherwise captivating performances. I’m as much of a fan of trippy acid music as the next person… but not when it’s interfering with my appreciation of high-quality acting. 

All in all, while some people might hate it, The Madness of King Lear delivers a creative, shocking and entertaining piece of theatre. You may come out of it with your brain upside-down in confusion, and your ears might be ringing with the sounds of German metal music. But hopefully you’ll also come out with a healthy appreciation for contemporary Shakespearean theatre.

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