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King Lear, Royal Exchange, Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Im a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
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Divide and misrule
Although I had not seen King Lear before, I was aware of it being something of a Mount Olympus which many distinguished actors feel the need to climb. Having seen Shakespeare's play at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, I now know why this perception is widely held.

King Lear, Manchester Royal Exchange, Don Warrington
Don Warrington (King Lear) Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Don Warrington, who is best known for his role in 1970's sitcom Rising Damp, has a bass, growly voice which perfectly compliments his initial appearance on stage in full regal garb. He then brilliantly negotiates Lear's transition to a character who seems helpless and clings to The Fool (Miltos Yerolemou) and 'Poor Tom' (Alfred Enoch), like a child with his best friends.

King Lear, Manchester Royal Exchange, Don Warrington
Don Warrington (King Lear) & Miltos Yerolemou (The Fool). Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

The only downside of Don Warrington's performance is that when he is not on stage, the dramatic impetus and intensity seems to be reduced. However, this may be true of all productions of the play and not a reflection on the other actors in this production. It's also partly to do with the way that Shakespeare gives so many of King Lear's best lines to its leading character.

King Lear, Manchester Royal Exchange
Alfred Enoch (Edgar/PoorTom). Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Having said that, Philip Whitchurch gives a moving and compelling performance as the Earl of Gloucester. He conveys the way his character moves from being a self-assured member of the ruling elite to one who suffers an act of such humiliation and barbarity that it would probably cause some audience members to walk out, if it were included in a new play.

King Lear, Manchester Royal Exchange, Don Warrington
Philip Whitchurch (Earl of Gloucester) & Don Warrington (King Lear). Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

The production, directed by Michael Buffong, artistic director of Talawa Theatre, gets its money's worth out of the Royal Exchange's technical facilities. In the famous 'Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!' speech, Don Warrington is literally soaked as 'rain' cascades down on him. Luckily for the actor, this comes just before the interval, which also gives the Royal Exchange's staff the chance to mop up the water.

The play reaches its emotional and dramatic climax with one of Shakespeare's most poignant crystallizations of grief. It's a scene where generational conflict is subsumed into something much bigger. The play ends with Edgar's (Alfred Enoch) tribute to Lear. He says: "We that are young shall never see so much, nor live so long."

King Lear, Manchester Royal Exchange, Don Warrington
Don Warrington (King Lear). Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

King Lear is a gruelling journey at times but the hard work is repaid by its depths of human empathy and the heights of drama and poetry that it reaches.

This play, which is three and a half hours, including the interval, is a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Tarawa Theatre Company, in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where it will be staged from 19th to 28th May.

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Why? King Don gives a majestic performance
Phone: 0161 833 9833
Where: Royal Exchange, Manchester
Cost: From 10
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