This is a second visit to King Lear for Northern Broadsides founder and Artistic director Barrie Rutter and an even more impressive eighth for director Jonathan Miller. Familiarity with the text however does not necessarily lend itself to new or bold interpretation and whilst this latest tour from the terrifically strong company is as solid as we have come to expect from them it sadly offers us nothing new.
There is a mischievous irreverence to the text with the Northern accents of the company providing a brave and unwitting clarity. It somehow makes it feel more approachable and within reach and on more than one occasion humanises characters and adds a level of humour that is otherwise not there. The relaxed approach to the writing with which Broadsides are renowned is both refreshing and enlightening.
Rutter himself makes a valiant stab at the mighty role but lacks the intensity for full impact. The problem for Rutter is that he struggles to come across as anything other than a thoroughly genial Northern bloke. Whilst he may lack the regal quality of a king and the horror of a tyrant he does manage to pluck at the heart strings later in the play, particularly as he is reunited with Gloucester.
One of the strengths of Broadsides is their great ensemble mentality and here it is great to see some of the lesser roles being given room to breath with a great comedy turn from Joss Vantyler as Oswald and a rarely achieved three dimensional Fool from Fine Time Fontayne which is among the best I have ever seen. There is a strength behind this fool that makes his very forthright relationship with his master completely believable. Perhaps this man is more statesman than people realise and is able to manipulate affairs of the crown with some skill. An interesting concept.
Andrew Vincent and John Branwell both give suitably robust performances as Kent and Gloucester, with strong performances too from Helen Sheals and Nicola Sanderson as Goneril and Regan. As Cordelia Catherine Kinsella plays the vulnerable and at times equally tough with a graceful elegance.
This is a wonderfully accessible Lear that may not offer anything new but certainly adds strength to this incredibly vibrant company.