Tim Crouch’s Lear, pared down mainly for primary school audiences - the RSC’s fourth show in its Young People’s Shakespeare series - becomes the story of two families torn apart by argument, tension, conflict and unwise behaviour during the week between Christmas and New Year. It’s a ‘madness’ situation which many children will recognise and it allows Crouch and his designer to do things with Christmas hats, tinsel, fancy dress costumes and poignant - all so familiar - Christmas music.
Paul Copley (King Lear) and Tyrone Huggins (Earl Of Gloucester) in King Lear at the Nuffield, Southampton Photo: Tristram Kenton
Paul Copley brings grandfatherly jollity to Lear at first which in this slick version dissipates at lightning speed. Almost all the language is Shakespeare’s and Copley, like the rest of the cast, makes every word sing out with great clarity so that no child can fail to understand. Tyrone Huggins gives us a warm gravelly Gloucester whose scene at Dover with the quicksilver master of disguise Edgar (Dharmesh Patel) is quite powerful. Debbie Korley is an appealing Cordeila, vulnerable with integrity and Ben Deery is convincing as the amoral Edmund, so glitteringly attractive that two unhappy women are prepared to risk everything by sleeping with him.
Lily Arnold’s deceptively simple sets are imaginative, too. The cast sits on benches at the side for most of the time they are not in action and the playing area is edged with boards which lift in and out of slots to become flats or at one point a bier. There’s a flip chart to indicate the date from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve and Christmas lights twinkle throughout.