I have still not fallen in love with the Rose Theatre, which is sad as it is the only theatre within comfortable walking distance, but I keep giving it a chance and sometimes it delivers the goods. King Lear was one of those good times.
I can usually be tempted to see Shakespeare but I had to think twice about this version of King Lear as I had seen the play twice in the last year and one of those times, at the Union Theatre, had been astonishingly good. What swung it for me was the name Jonathan Miller and it was at the Rose.
Things nearly went horribly wrong. I had to work in Reading that day and getting back from there to Kingston takes me around two and a half hours so to get back for 7:30pm I have to leave the office by 5pm and if I want some contingency then I have to leave even earlier than that.
I did manage to leave earlier than that but my bus got delayed in Reading and I ended up walking the last kilometre to the station only to miss the train by about ten seconds. That left me with a half an hour wait for the next one. Only that was delayed. I spent most of the next ninety minutes burning my mobile phone data allowance checking route options which led me to catch the Waterloo train that does not go via Richmond and changing at Clapham Junction to get a train back to Kingston. That got in just after 7:20pm (it was a couple of minutes late too!) which was just enough time to get to the theatre and claim my seat before the performance started.
That was my second close shave in a week so I must try and not work in Reading so often.
The simple stage with just a dais and a bar was a happy harbinger of things to come. This Lear was a stripped down version that let the actors paint all the pictures using Shakespeare's words. Few props were needed or used.
How stripped down it was I am nothing like qualified to comment on but there did seem to be some cuts. The most obvious one was that here the deaths of Regan and Goneril happened off stage and were merely reported whereas at the Union Theatre Regan died in the chair next to me.
The timings were slight and nothing material was removed. The result left the focus on Lear throughout, and I was very happy with that as the play is about his decent into madness and the consequences of that with the supporting characters there to help to paint that picture. Barrie Rutter was magnificent as Lear and the rest of the cast were very good too.
The other feature that I liked was the way that the scenes ran together quickly with one set of characters walking on to the stage while others were walking off. That was something that the sparse set allowed, that is no time was required to reset the stage for each new location.
I really enjoyed this version of King Lear. It both reaffirmed my faith in Shakespeare and enhanced my view of the Rose Theatre.