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  • Writer's pictureFrances

King Lear Review | The Royal Exchange | Manchester

“Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”

When it comes to tales of tragedy, any novice watching King Lear should be aware that Shakespeare favours no character. In a world where being sincere and pursuing true love will also see you kicking rocks; King Lear has a relatable premise. A powerful yet unstable man, fearful of losing the love of his daughters is concerned with who will care for him in his old age.

The Royal Exchange was created for Shakespeare; its round theatre is entirely immersive, but its productions vary from your typical portrayals. Last year the use of cross-gender casting saw Melanie Peake play Hamlet in a representation of the character that helped attract a young audience back into the theatre.

This year celebrates Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and what separates this continued, and common retelling of King Lear is its phenomenal performances. The Exchange can boast a largely black cast in which Don Warrington’s interpretation of Lear is unpretentious and empathetic. Warrington embodies Lear’s consumed nature due to his deteriorating state and allows the King to shine as a naive man unwilling to accept painful truths as opposed to a brash and tyrannical leaders fall from grace.

The daughters Goneril (Rakie Ayola), Regan (Debbie Korley) and Cordelia (Pepter Lunkuse) are strong, charismatic performers. For a three-hour production to feel effortless and brisk is a testament to its absorbing ensemble cast. Although the universal story of King Lear and its portrayal transcend race, it is always striking when a production can highlight that fact within its casting.

The director, Michael Buffong, transformed the Exchange stage to move with the ever-changing conditions put upon Lear. From the dirt, fire and rain, this heart-breaking and personal rendition of a families decay are worth the retelling.

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