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
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit