REVIEW: Shakespeare tragedy gets a comedic touch at Newby Hall

Joseph Marcell and Rawiri Paratene on stage.
Joseph Marcell and Rawiri Paratene on stage.

It is almost unspeakable in Britain to say you’re looking forward to winter at the beginning of an unusually balmy July.

But the sunset over Newby Hall and Gardens on Thursday, July 11 was the only thing blighting an otherwise faultless and surprising performance of Shakespeare’s indomitable King Lear.

Despite the audience having to shield their eyes to, aptly, avoid premature blindless – the Duke of Gloucester’s infamous fate when his eyes are gouged out on stage, a scene played with a delicious tinge of black comedy by Rawiri Paratene – as the sun fell behind the pop-up stage, the Globe’s production flew by with an energetic and seamless speed.

Taking Shakespeare’s Globe on tour means audiences at locations across the world not only get to enjoy a production performed by an elite cast of actors – but a fast-paced, diverse and rustic play which truly immortalises the Bard’s words rather than fixating on an elaborate set or intricate costume design.

With a compact and austere Elizabethan-style stage set back from Newby Hall, with only a solitary ice-cream van reminding the audience of our twenty-first century existence, and a tiny cast of eight actors, meaning stage and wardrobe managers had to step in to perform background roles, the production created a carefully-paced sense of intimacy and immediacy.

While Joseph Marcell played the old king with an authoritative sense of doom and trembling, child-like fear during his swift descent into madness, I found it hard to shrug off his reputation as a comedy actor, from his time playing the beloved British butler Geoffrey in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Marcell seemed to play up to his comedic persona, cavorting around the stage with a playful energy – making the Bard’s notoriously tragic elements even more painful to watch.

The audience were pulled into a false sense of security as they sat sipping beers and munching on strawberries on Newby Hall’s manicured lawns, until Marcell’s wail pierced through the grounds and probably gave a few birds heart-attacks as he carried the corpse of his favourite daughter Cordelia awkwardly in his arms.

Bethan Cullinane’s double-role as Cordelia and the Fool was carefully contrasted, while Ruther Everett and Shanaya Rafeet were seductively poisonous as corrupt sisters Goneril and Regan.

But any suggestion of tragedy and death was quickly eaten up in the improvised closing scene, as the entire cast performed an unexpectedly merry song and dance below – thankfully, by this point – an overcast sky.