Theatre review: King Lear at Bath's Theatre Royal - That's right, girls – I'm the daddy


There's a touch of the Krays about this East End 'Lear' in which a dodgy property empire crashes

In King Lear, the dispossessed monarch famously runs mad on the heath. However, we're talking urban turf in director Lucy Bailey's new staging for Bath Theatre Royal – turf of the gangland variety.

David Haig's Lear is a 1960s honcho with a property empire, a violent temper, and an East End entourage of spivs and skinheads. In a suit and winklepickers, he's initially holding court in the back room of a pub – with maybe a touch of Ronnie Kray. Puffing on a fag, he's divvying up his assets between his daughters, starting with Aislín McGuckin's Goneril, a brassy minx dolled up in a turquoise sheath dress. This is Shakespeare-meets-The Sopranos and Mad Men, but in Tower Hamlets.

The palace bestowed on Goneril is a nightclub and gambling den, whence Lear is soon unceremoniously ejected. Then, in a swanky skyscaper, Paul Shelley's Gloucester finds himself brutally strapped into a chrome Wassily lounger, having his eyeballs gouged out by Regan's husband, using a corkscrew from the drinks trolley.

Bailey's designer, William Dudley, uses scrims and projections to realise numerous settings as fluidly as possible, though a few might render the audience more discombobulated than Lear. Instead of staggering away to Blackheath's acres of common land (as you might have expected) for the storm scene, Haig scurries through whirling alleys – like a naff video game – to wind up in what could be a basketball court, with a fuzzy backdrop of wire fencing.

Albeit with strained moments and textual adjustments, Bailey's update is smart in general, alighting on a society of civilized gilding and savage violence. Simon Gregor is a scene-stealing Fool, a runty geezer in a porkpie hat, always acting up like a satiric vaudevillean, knees splayed chimpanzee-style. Fiona Button is outstandingly assured as Cordelia, in jeans and sneakers, with a streak of stubborn, youthful idealism. Haig really excels himself at the outset and the very end, in his rage and tenderness towards her. Rather than a slow burn, he explodes in a quivering, tempestuous fury when she won't fawn. Ultimately, he's heartbreaking, curled up beside her corpse, with his head on her chest, crying like a baby.

However, he often seems too robust for the part, not credibly frail physically or mentally. The play's tragi-comic poignancy is blunted. Several younger supporting actors desperately need fine-tuning, and some of the accents are all over the place. Fiona Glascott's Regan sounds like Babs Windsor one minute and House of Windsor the next.

Still, you have to admire the Theatre Royal's extraordinarily ambitious summer season. It's a regional powerhouse.

Static (Etcetera, London **) is, by comparison, very much the work of theatrical fledglings. I caught this shoestring-budget, solo performance at the Etcetera pub theatre, where actor Hugh McCann was warming up as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, before heading for Edinburgh. He plays a nameless teen who tells us how he was mesmerized by 9/11, became a news addict, and now dreams of being up on screen with Jeremy Paxman.

A question mark hovers over how that fantasy might become true. We gather from inserted vignettes, in which McCann pretends to be the Boy's shrill, scrunched-up mum and chilled-out dad , that the lad may be a psychotic loner. We leave him, climactically, storming Tory HQ during the 2010 tuition fees protests, ecstatically engaged and lugging a fire extinguisher, a potential missile.

Writer-director Tom Nicholas has a way to go, in terms of honing his skills, eradicating dramatically inept and inert patches. Nevertheless, McCann – even taking a collapsing chair in his stride – has dynamic bounce, compensating for a lack of menace.

Also heading for the Edinburgh Fringe, on tour, is Ring (BAC, London ****), devised by director David Rosenberg with writer Glen Neath. Continuing Rosenberg's binaural sound experiments (helped by Fuel and Wellcome Trust backing, and by University College London medical researchers), this immersive thriller has its tongue in its cheek, and its headphone-wearing audience in the dark – literally, in pitch blackness. Acoustically, you're encircled by a sinister gang of voices. These characters want to foist – or execute – their fantasies on you.

Having sat sweltering, lights-off, for 50 minutes, you might want to give Rosenberg feedback on which proved dominant: suspense or the urge to snooze. Neath's script regrettably builds tension only to lose the plot. Nonetheless, the deceptive impression of spatial, 3D reality, conjured up by binaural recording techniques, is wizard. Moreover, it's intriguing, physiologically and psychologically. When a voice seems to be drawing near then whispers right in your ear, you know it's an illusion yet you can't help flinching away. And you would swear your hair has just risen in response to the breeze of another body brushing yours. Startling, spooky and amusing.

Twitter: @katebassett001


'King Lear' ( to 10 Aug; 'Static', The Fiddler's Elbow, Edinburgh ( to 23 Aug; 'Ring', Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh ( 19-24 Aug, and touring

Critic's Choice

Location, location, location: the touring production of Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy – produced by Shakespeare's Globe – touches down at the historic Gloucestershire site of the battle of Tewkesbury on Sunday, before heading for London. The hit production of Ibsen's A Doll's House, starring an intensely neurotic Hattie Morahan, is transferring to the Duke of York's in London's West End (from Thur) for a 12-week run.


Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living