Reviews: King Lear, Citizens, Glasgow & The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Lyceum, Edinburgh

King Lear

Citizens, Glasgow

Until May 12

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until May 12

Reviews by Mark Brown

It is a sign of new Citizens Theatre director Dominic Hill’s ambition that he has secured the services of David Hayman (who made his name at the Gorbals playhouse more almost four decades ago) to play the lead in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The longest memories in Scottish theatre will struggle to recollect a better combination of play, actor and director.

In my 18 years as a theatre critic I have been blessed to see Mark Rylance play the Bard’s Hamlet, Diana Rigg as Brecht’s Mother Courage, and Fiona Shaw in the role of Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull. Hayman’s Lear should be remembered alongside such great performances.

From the outset – when Lear arrives on Tom Piper’s abstract, modern set (all pared-back black walls and Perspex) – Hayman is a model of brilliantly controlled energy. The King’s catastrophic rage at his honest daughter, Cordelia’s failure to flatter him carries the hubris of the defiant Hosni Mubarak in the first days of the Egyptian Revolution or George W Bush announcing “mission accomplished” in a still war ravaged Iraq.

Lear’s ensuing crisis – as he is robbed of status, wealth and power by his conspiring daughters, Goneril and Regan – sees Hayman altered utterly. It seems to be a smaller man who stumbles across the tempest-torn heath in his long johns, overwhelmed by guilt and approaching the end of his wits. As he stretches the tortured soul of his Lear to its breaking point, Hayman’s extraordinary performance reverberates with an unmistakeable emotional and psychological power.

This production will be long remembered as “Hayman’s Lear”, and rightly so. However, every other aspect of this superb staging, from the excellent cast to Paddy Cunneen’s disconcerting music and sound, contributes splendidly to a coherent, transfixing and deeply memorable rendering of a great tragedy.

From a Renaissance classic to a modern one, as the Lyceum Theatre offers a highly accomplished production of Martin McDonagh’s bleakly hilarious play The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. Set in the rugged and rural west of Ireland, this comedy about INLA man Padraic (who was too crazy and too violent to be admitted into the Provisional IRA) and a dead cat marks McDonagh out as the successor to the great Irish dramatist JM Synge.

Like Synge’s Playboy Of The Western World, the play toys wonderfully with the romantic notions which are attached to rural Ireland and its people, whilst also capturing the highly distinctive form of English spoken there (not least the diminutive suffix “een”, which allows McDonagh humorously abusive words like “bitcheen”). Add to that the absurdism of Ionesco and – a tangible love of language, an imaginative comic mind in overdrive and all – you have a truly brilliant work of comic theatre.

To do the play justice you, first, need a great Padraic, and director Mark Thomson has one in Peter Campion. The sheer lunacy of the character is evident from the early scene in which the lieutenant is torturing a man, who he has hanging upside-down from a meat hook (an occasional seller of cannabis to college students, the unfortunate guy has fallen foul of Padraic’s maniac pursuit of an Ireland free of Brits and drugs).

Campion maintains the character in this hyper-manic state throughout, and is matched by a fine supporting cast. Colin Richmond’s ultra-naturalistic set assures that the play gets the Synge-style aesthetic it deserves.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 29, 2012

© Mark Brown


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