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Creation Theatre Company - King Lear

12th February to 24th March 2016.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Five go mad in England

Bookshop Lear among the philosophy and medical texts

Creation Theatre: King Lear, at Blackwell's Bookshop, Oxford, until March 24

Creation Theatre Company has returned to one of its favourite venues, the Norrington Room within Blackwell's Bookshop, to mount William Shakespeare's King Lear. Performing on a stage surrounded by philosophy and medical texts, director and adapter Charlotte Conquest's multi-tasking cast of five focus on the domestic rather than the national tragedy resulting from Lear's voluntary abdication.

In a truncated version of the play, what stands out most are the clever, tricksy ways in which Conquest enables the story to be told with such a small cast. The clearest evidence is with the doubling of Goneril and Regan by the fine young actress Natasha Rickman, who is clearly a star in the making. She switches from one sister to the other by exchanging a feathery shoulder-drape with a furry one and by adopting two very different speech patterns and behaviours.

Goneril is severe and forthright while Regan is flighty and tremulous. Both ooze sex appeal. It gets a bit silly when the two have to talk to each other, though, and there is a loss of the willing suspension of disbelief. There are gains in terms of entertainment value.

It is not unusual for Cordelia and the Fool to be doubled, but actress Lucy Pearson, in addition, takes on the wronged brother, Edgar. The diminutive Pearson is terrific as the emaciated Poor Tom figure that Edgar turns into during the storm scene, books slamming on to the stage as thunderbolts from the heavens. Morgan Philpott, who was in Creation's three-man Henry V a couple of years ago, acts five named characters.

The sisters' husbands are not greatly differentiated and Philpott's time is mostly spent playing the villainous Edmund, who is prone to hearing voices in his head (once again, Matt Eaton's sound design excels).

Max Gold's Lear is gruffness personified, more youthful than often portrayed. His performance does not leave the audience with a feeling of emotional devastation at Lear's losses, however. He could almost have swapped roles with Michael Sheldon, whose blinded Gloucester suggests a complexity in old age omitted by the more one-sided Gold. An inventive, but emotionally unengaging production.