King Lear at Peckham Asylum
Staging the epic King Lear in one of the most stunning venues in London is a stroke of genius. The Malachites theatre company has a mission: “to reconnect Shakespeare with Shoreditch in the public consciousness,” and all of their venues, local to Shoreditch, have been chosen with precision.
John McEnery makes a fantastic Lear. The arrogance, hubris and the ebb and flow of his descent into madness are skillfully portrayed. Some powerful scenes are undeniably diminished by McEnery reading from his script, though director Benjamin Blyth refers to this in the programme: “There is, of course, a parallel between the ageing actor with a lifetime of experience having to search for his lines, and the aged king struggling to cling on to his sanity.”
Costumes complement the surroundings perfectly, with characters attired in mostly modern clothes with an understated nod to Elizabethan fashions. The result is a cast that looks character appropriate yet catwalk ready. Lear’s crown of twigs is an artwork in itself.
Peckham Asylum is in many ways a dream venue. A stunning 19th century former chapel, the interior is in a pleasing state of distress with unpainted plaster, original stained glass windows and the crumbling remains of a brick wall. The only drawback is that, in February, it’s absolutely freezing. The audience is provided with blankets, which prove insufficient when the temperature drops further during the second act. A truly wonderful production sadly becomes somewhat of an endurance test as a result of the frigid conditions: King Lear is a three-hour play.
Even with the cold, the audience is rapt with the performance. The Malachites is undoubtedly a theatre company to watch; after seeing one of their offerings you will be driven to see another. This Shakespearean rendition is stylish, engaging and experiential. Great use is made of a handful of musicians and some very basic props; shadows are cast against the crumbling walls from waving long, black flags; and some innovative sound effects from the band and a flashing light create an intense and impactful storm.
A breathtaking venue with consistently stellar acting from every actor makes this an unmissable production. Casting is impeccable and every actor deserves special mention. Be prepared for the cold to make sure you can give King Lear the attention it deserves.
King Lear is on at Peckham Asylum until 5th March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.