King Lear (3 stars)

King Lear

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, until Sat 10 Jul

As is so often the case with outdoor performances, an audience’s ultimate enjoyment of this first show in Bard in the Botanics’ 2010 season might be more a matter of projection than performance. While some of the parts require – and are afforded – a degree of delicacy, those actors who can make themselves heard above the buses and boy racers rolling past on Great Western Road outside might find they live longer in the minds of the audience.

Bard in the Botanics has nine years’ experience of doing this, however, and the abilities of director Gordon Barr’s nine-strong cast range from the efficient to the excellent. George Docherty lends a powerful figure and a basso gravitas to the role of Lear himself, even as he roams the land in insanity at the betrayal of his daughters and a thunderstorm is drummed out against the sheet metal backdrop. Alan Steele’s Earl of Gloucester, cruelly blinded after being framed for treason, also claims an unlikely moment of comedy when he unknowingly ropes his son, Kirk Bage’s exiled Edgar, into assisting with a suicide attempt.

Despite the challenges of the space, Beth Marshall’s Goneril gives a performance of measured, regal precision, while Steven Rae manages to elevate the villainous Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, beyond the merely dastardly. Throughout, there is an air of encouraging professionalism rather than novelty, although perhaps only those with the best positions at the front of the audience will find themselves immersed enough for each mounting act of tragedy in the final act to ring true.

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