Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932

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King Lear
by William Shakespeare

Cast & Crew

Lear Richard Walker
Rachel Bedford
Alex Rex
Rebecca Allan
Kevin French
Michael Street
Nick Best
Benjamin Dotan
Richard Jordan
Rob Kendall
Jeremy Smith
Tom Pinny
Barry Dougall
Martin Borley-Cox
Peter Robinson
Old Man/Doctor
Les Necus

Director Patricia Coleman
Stage Manager
Denise Swann
Assistant Stage Manager
Bernadette Wood
Sarah Stringer
Lighting Design
Richard Walker
Lighting Technicians Ian Spiby, Elliott Brannan
Music & Sound Effects
Kay Warcaba, Lucy Tompkins
Set & Furniture
Derek Banyard
Costumes The Works
Additional Costumes
Tamsyn Payne, Dorothy Granger, Pam Mann, Susan Dotan, Anna Thorpe
Wardrobe Mistress
Clare Brittain
Front of House
Masque Theatre members
Poster Design
Tamsyn Payne
Programme Design
Martin Borley-Cox

Richard Walker as King Lear Photo by Ian Clarke

Production No. 369

More images from King Lear


Patricia Coleman, director

Shakespeare’s King Lear has had resonance for me for decades. As a child, I remember seeing some of it on the old black and white TV as an afternoon repeat and being absolutely thrilled by the blinding of Gloucester (even better than the threatened removal of Antonio’s flesh in the Merchant of Venice!).  Needless to say, I got a bit tired after a while of listening to ranting adults and didn’t finish watching it.

Later on, I was desperate to have the opportunity of playing the parts of Gonerill or Regan (both!) but it seemed to be a play that most amateur groups just didn’t do!

Increasingly disturbed by this most uncompromising of tragedies, I have increasingly wanted to be involved in its realisation on stage.

A couple of years ago, I began to consider directing it for Masque and it was agreed this year that I would direct a production for the second week of December.

An ageing king makes a capricious decision to divide his realm among his three daughters according to the love they express for him.  When the youngest daughter refuses to take part in this charade she is banished, leaving the king dependent upon her manipulative and untrustworthy sisters.  In the scheming and bloody recriminations that follow, not only does the king’s sanity crumble, the stability of the realm itself is threatened.

First performed before King James at Whitehall on St Stephens night (26th December) in 1606, this adaptation by Shakespeare of the traditional legend of King Lear – where Lear is restored to the throne until he is ‘made ripe for death’ (Edmund Spenser), and Cordelia survives as rightful heir - must have been perturbing to the court to say the least. The story of a king betrayed by his family and driven mad by his circumstances foreshadows perhaps the execution of Charles I in 1649, and the subsequent dissolution of the monarchy.

Revived soon after the Restoration in 1660, King Lear was nevertheless unsuccessful as it was felt to be too bleak and desolate.  Only when Nahum Tate re-wrote the play in 1681 did it become popular.  In this version, Lear survives and Edgar and Cordelia are married.

In the late 18th Century and early 19th Century, the play was suppressed by the British government who disliked the dramatisation of a mad monarch at a time when George III was suffering mental illness.

The original plot was not reinstated until William Charles Macready’s production of 1838 and Samuel Phelps restored the complete Shakespearean version in 1845

Our rehearsals started informally at the beginning of September, so in spite of several breaks in the rehearsal period due to other productions and holidays, this has given us essential time to absorb the play and feel secure with it.

Although a large canvas is often envisaged for this difficult, complicated and multi-layered play,  the enclosed space of the Crusader Round means attention will be focussed very strongly on the actors and the text.  It will be close up to the audience and intimate.

The part of King Lear is played by Richard Walker, with Rachel Bedford, Alex Rex and Becky Allen as the daughters. Gloucester is Rob Kendall, and Jeremy Smith and Tom Pinny are Edgar and Edmund.  The Fool is Barry Dougall.  Other parts are taken by Richard Jordan, Kevin French, Mike Street, Martin Borley-Cox, Ben Dotan, Peter Robinson and newcomer, Nick Best.  The wonderful Les Necus is seen in two very small cameo role.

The job of stage manager is efficiently taken by Denise Swann, assisted by Bernadette Wood.  Kay Warcaba and Lucy Tompkins are responsible for sound production and Ian Spiby is on lighting.  I also want to say how immensely grateful I am to everyone helping on costumes.

Tue 8 - Sat 12 December 2009 at 7.30pm
The Church of the Holy Sepulchure, Sheep Street, Northampton

Page last updated: 19/04/2012 Masque Theatre © 2012

by Bob Godfrey

Shakespeare’s King Lear is the height of his achievement.   As Dr.Johnson has it, the play offers: ‘the striking opposition of contrary characters, the sudden changes of fortune, and the quick succession of events that fill the mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity and hope.’   In this regard the company are to be congratulated on successfully achieving a genuinely tragic trajectory for the play with all its complex plots and counter plots.   At the centre of the enterprise was Richard Walker’s King Lear mastering the shifts between regality, ‘every inch a king’, testiness, anger ‘contending with the fretful elements’ , madness, reflection, exhaustion, penitence and love. It was a performance that was both convincing and satisfying.

As for Lear’s daughters Goneril was a model of mean-minded dissatisfaction and Regan of expressive spitefulness and frightening cruelty, both well-developed characters in performance.  Cordelia’s role, apart from her spirited opening challenge to Lear, was more muted; perhaps empathy and love are not so easily up front as nastiness and antagonism.  To complete the family picture the husbands Cornwall and Albany supported the action well.  Albany especially impressed in his gradual evolution into a strong figure representing both moral and political integrity and resistance to the degradation which infected his wife, her sister and his brother-in-law.   Nor must we forget the fiercely loyal, ankle-biting Kent or the Fool who sang melodiously and riddled his way through to an untimely end.

As if one family romance were not enough, Shakespeare introduces the second story of the Gloucesters, parallel in some respects with the first, in order to explore further the questions of filial duty, love, honesty and their fragility in face of rivalry, self-interest and mischief making.   Edmund came across as cheerfully self-seeking with a hint of malevolence.  Through direct address he was always open to us and took us along with him as he devised schemes to deceive his all too gullible father and brother. One does wonder, however, how Edgar, himself a brilliant shape-changer who disguises himself at need and plays similar games of deception and duplicity, can fall for Edmund’s spiel. A strong performance here brought out the moral dilemmas, the struggle for survival and the essential goodness of Edgar’s character.

Finally there are the two incidents in the play that caused earlier generations so much pain.  The ‘extrusion’ of Gloucester’s eyes as Dr. Johnson saw it ‘seems an act too horrid to be endured in dramatick exhibition’.   In this production the scene was managed very well.   Set up by a vindictive Cornwall and a truly scary, spiteful Regan, Gloucester himself, at this moment helpless, gained our sympathy with a certain nobility.  Then there is the death of Cordelia which seems too unfair to contemplate since she has done nothing wrong.   Her death, however, is the instrument of Lear’s final punishment for his initial lack of wisdom and the lines ‘Thou’lt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never’ reflect that awful realisation that comes to anyone who has mourned a loved one.

The cast was completed by the lords of Burgundy and France, the Curans, the Oswalds and the gentlemen and messengers of this world, all of whom contributed with credit to this production.

Richard Walker as King Lear