King Lear at Bristol Old Vic

‘The weight of this sad time we must obey;

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

The oldest hath borne most: we that are young,

Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’


King Lear – Shakespeare


The last line of King Lear is more poignant now than ever in these politically turbulent times. I have nothing but high praise for this production and urge lovers and haters of Shakespeare to come and indulge or be won over.

From the moment of arriving into the new backstage bar area until the end of the production, I had a strong feeling that Bristol Old Vic had ‘stepped up’ and raised the standard both in how they welcome the audience into the building an in the passion and devotion they give to the performances.

There has been tangible anticipation for this show on the streets of Bristol from the moment the poster went up. Rightly so. With such distinguished established performers as Timothy West (King Lear), Stephanie Cole (Fool) and David Hargreaves (Gloucester) as core cast, they lead the Bristol Old Vic students with dignity, power and outstanding skill.

The striking pro-active relationship between BOV theatre and BOV Theatre School provides visceral energy on the stage. I have to say the movement choreography, led by Jane Gibson, was outstanding. Combining clever costume design (led by Aldo Yela Vazquez) and powerfully tight choreography, the performers cast an underlying threat and escalating tension. This cast insidious shadows and haunting undertones without dominating the action, a unique balance; this combination ultimately offsetting the traditional foreground and symbolizing the union of young and old in the production.

Fast paced (not usually something I associate with Shakespeare) and passionate; expert directing led by Tom Morris ensured a well-balanced stage, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

The energy drive and focus from each and every performer is impressive, everyone brought their character alive leaving nothing behind on the page. Easy to understand why Danann McAleer was chosen as understudy for Lear, I’m looking forward to see what he does next. The two sisters (played by Jessica Temple and Michelle Fox) own the stage and the men on it, aided by their costumes, bathing them in red.

Inspired casting choices create relationships that are magic, Cole and West fit together like puzzle pieces – a true joy to see them on stage together.

It’s also a refreshing change to see projections being used to compliment the opening scene rather than dominate.

A stand out show in all aspects, costume, direction, performance, sound, casting and set – get a ticket before it’s sold out.

If you want a peak behind the scenes, check out this blog documenting the rehearsal process. Written by assistant directors Chloe Masterton and Sarah Bradley.


King Lear shows at Bristol Old Vic until 10th July


Review by Anita MacCallum

Image by Simon Annand, with thanks



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