There are two main paths you can take when staging a classic: honour its roots with a traditional production, or attempt to shed new light on it with a bold, novel interpretation. Darker Purpose Theatre’s King Lear at The Cockpit aims for some kind of middle road and almost immediately runs into trouble.
The stark design – in the main, just four fluttering sheets and a versatile chair and table – suggests path two: a new, creative insight into an oft-staged play, with a low-maintenance production leaving space for meaty readings. However, Lewis Reynolds’ subdued direction and his cast’s brusque performances counteract that, hitting all the necessary beats, but doing so in an almost perfunctory manner. Moments that should be savoured pass by in a flash, and some of the text’s less gripping exchanges seem interminable.
This isn’t a terrible Lear by any means. There are some quiet moments of emotional truth and occasional dark wit, and if this is your first encounter with the play, it tells its story with earnest accuracy. However, those familiar with it will find little here that they don’t already know, and it’s unfortunate to follow Sam Mendes’ stylish National production, which has such a strong, dynamic voice.