The life and times of a happy go lucky blogger in London
Shakespeare for kids – what’s the right age?
Categories: blogging mums, theatre

My one wish for 2011 is that I can spare some time to experience the rich and wonderful tapestry of London’s cultural life (and fit everything else in too!). It’s not so difficult to fit in a visit to an art gallery or museum, that’s why we live in London right?

In this world of abridged classics and dumbed down literature, it takes more than a deep breath to launch into Shakespeare, and an even bigger one for King Lear, especially when it’s an outing for a 10 year old.

We rocked up to The Roundhouse in Camden last Saturday for a three and a half hour performance by the RSC – we were packed full of high anticipation and no idea what to really expect. We’ve seen just about every musical going but had yet to experience Shakespeare, let alone a tragedy.

I’m not ashamed to say I had reserverations. Last time I visited the venue it was for a Grace Jones gig, how on earth were they going to make it worthy of the RSC?

As we arrived, I heard some great gasps of awe, and we hadn’t even gone inside;
‘Mum – this place is amazing!’
‘Oh blimey, we’re not even in there yet.’ I thought.
‘It’s great isn’t it?’ I replied as we waltzed in. I looked around, there were no other kids,
‘Let’s get some snacks..’
‘Mum, there aren’t any other kids here?’
‘I know.’
‘That’s cool’
‘I (ahem) know….yes, that’s cool.’

We grabbed what sustenance we could from the bar and went to take our seats. The interior was unrecognisable from my last visit, and if I’m not mistaken, a modernist reconstruction of The Globe. It made the experience even more intense to walk around the periphery of the pop up theatre and find our level, row and seats and, then discover the whole setting. The minimal stage set was intriguing, transluscent clouds of dry ice wafted across the space. We took our seats, rather worryingly in the front row since we were prewarned about gloopy things and water coming into the audience and didn’t have waterproof clothing on. Eerie music played and a bright light shone from the upper reaches of the set through cracked windows. You can hear the sound track on this short clip released by the RSC.

As we waited an actor walked on stage, and seating himself against a wall, he waited too – he was Edgar, the disinherited son of Gloucester. We were quite scared by the atmospheric setting, a good start in my book. The first scene began, courtiers took the stage and then King Lear, on the cusp of his descent into madness, arrived. This was serious heavy theatre with the potential to fall into parody – the challenge of the cast was to hold our attention and draw us in and it didn’t take long.

As Lear began to question the depth of love from his daughters, I began to question my wisdom – was this going to be a little bit too much? The costumes were stunning but would the acting hold up? I’d read a not so flattering review of the production in The Standard, but didn’t take it to heart, but let’s face it, no one likes to see a turkey. Theatre is a big commitment of time and money and a great experience is not always the outcome.

We waited for the characters to unfold the drama, and as Regan and Goneril waxed lyrical, and Cordelia became outcast, the story began to roll out its glorious tragedy against an austere backdrop – I looked to my side to see a little face in thrall to the drama, and much to my amazement, she knew who everyone was… The cast was quite jawdropping, Regan, played by Katie Stephens and seen here with Geoffrey Freshwater as Gloucester, were our two favourites.

Admittedly, as the interval drew near, the flowery and dated language was a little much to bear but the plot was strikingly clear and the players were part and parcel of bring its complexity to life. I was grateful the prose had not been updated, it struck a chord with the both of us and stretched us beyond our usual limits. We had plenty of time to review the players while taking in the quality of acting and the delivery of the lines. While someone beside us fell asleep, the rest of us were rapt. Not only was the cast multicultural, but the costumes veered from Medieval to Second World War regalia, and this played very well into the cross currents of the plot; loyalty, love, legitimacy, war and lunacy, in no particular order. Our imaginations were not just powered by the production but also by its history and how this story has survived for centuries.

When we reprised our seats for the second half, we were both agog. Eyeballs were extracted and sutured, a dynasty destroyed and its future tragically curtailed through dastardly deception. And that is King Lear, the much maligned Shakespearian tragedy that is often consigned to the bottom of the pile when it comes to experiencing The Bard. It was a great experience and I feel that we have seen a production of great note; whatever your age, it’s a great thing to see and it won’t disappoint, or leave you.

On a lighter note, when I pointed out to my daughter the wonderful emerald dress that Cordelia wore in her last scene, I was told in a rather exaggerated stage whisper:

‘She looks like Fiona from Shrek

Well, that puts it all into perspective when it comes to high drama doesn’t it!

So the cultural aspiration in our household for 2011 gets a big tick and so does the production. My misgivings about the complexity of the production have been put aside as it’s been a cultural experience that we’ll never forget.

And what’s next? We’re doing a bit pop culture and going to see Gnomeo and Juliet, followed by As You Like it starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate – it’s all in the mix isn’t it?

One thing’s for sure, Shakespeare never dies.

The production moves to Stratford, the New York soon and tickets are available here, it’s unmissable and worth every penny.

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