Cambridge Shakespeare, Michaelmas Term 2002
Michael Grosvenor Myer

Grosvenor Myer, Michael. "Cambridge Shakespeare, Michaelmas Term 2002." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.3 (January, 2003): 18.1-5 <URL:

  1. Stephen Unwin is one of the talented people we've seen pass through here to make a name for themselves in the great theatrical world without. He was responsible for the entertaining Vogue-reading Errors I wrote of last time. For some years now he's been director of the excellent English Touring Theatre, whose distinguished Shakespearean productions the Arts is regularly privileged to host. The latest to arrive was King Lear.

  2. Timothy West brought an unexpectedly sardonic edge to the King. It was as if he was playing a game a lot of the time, harnessing his uncontrollable obstinacy to a sort of o.t.t. How Far Can You Go?, constantly thinking, "oh what a silly old bugger I'm being." The poignant crack of his voice when he reminds himself, as well as France and all the court, that he "shall never see that face of hers [Cordelia's] again," sounded as if he knew he'd gone too far this time, that he'd better call it off before it was too late; but then you could see that mulishness kick in again. That ambivalence lasted throughout this masterly performance. Even the mad scenes had a half-wilful, playing-at-it feel a lot of the time ("I'll go mad and then they'll be sorry"), emerging particularly at that always-amazing flat statement of "I know thee well enough. Thy name is Gloucester." In this almost tragicomic interpretation, Dominic Rickhards' on-the-make Edmund, David Cardy's perfect cockney stand-up Fool, and Grant Gillespie's spiteful, giggling adolescent of an Oswald fitted glovelike.

  3. The more serious notes were finely struck too, however. Michael Cronin's Polonius-like Gloucester had a fine integrity overlaid by an off-putting pomposity till put to the tragic test (Johnson was right about the intolerability of the scene of "the extrusion of Gloucester's eyes"). Garry Cooper's virile Kent and Rachel Pickup's strong-minded Cordelia had integrity too, and the witty stir-it-up Goneril of Jessica Turner contrasted nicely with the filthy-tempered Regan of Catherine Kanter. This is well in tune with the text: Regan, faced with the erring Gloucester, can only come up with the unsubtle "Hang him instantly"; it is her sister who thinks up that hilarious wizard wheeze of "Pluck out his eyes" (Goneril seems to have a thing about eyes: "eye-sight" leads the list of what she claims to love her father dearer than in her very first speech).

  4. The particularly serious note was that of Nick Fletcher's Edgar, destined to redeem his father, and at last the kingdom. One of the pins, wooden pricks or nails he had stuck into himself while masquerading as the lean loin-clothed Mad Tom was just below the left ribcage: as precise a spear-stigmatum as ever one saw.

  5. Like "Over the Moon" and "Sick as a Parrot", "A Game of Two Halves" has become one of those sports-reporting clichés so mockable as to be virtually unusable with a straight face. However, it can obviously be applied in general to The Winter's Tale, and never more so than to the Queens' Bats college production. Two directors, Sam Baldock and Delyth Jones, were credited in the programme; I have no information as to which was responsible for what, but if I learned that one did the first half and the other the second, I shouldn't be the least bit surprised: like A.A. Milne's two little bears who lived in a wood, one of them was bad and the other was good. The Sicilian first act started strongly with the personable Adam Seddon singing the Lennon/McCartney jealousy song Little Girl with twelve-string guitar to entertain the court. Whenever he reappeared, as Jailer and bringing the Oracle, he lit up the stage again with his personality. Meanwhile, thanks to a particularly well-spoken, breakdown-experiencing Leontes from Mark Richards, a dignified and troubled Hermione from Kate Doulton, Micha Colombo (who remains in my mind as an effective Bawd from Pericles a couple of terms back) doing the necessary with Paulina, and an unusually strong Emilia from Hannah Roberts, the jealous intrigue zipped effectively along. At the interval, one felt glad one had come. But oh the heavy change after the restart, all hearty clumping Mummerset and no daffodils that come... The shearing feast was only saved from complete disaster by Mr Seddon reappearing as an urbane, tatty tail-coated and top-hatted conjurer of an Autolycus. There was some revival of interest when we got back to the other court for a statue scene that brought the requisite lump to the throat. But the final score resolutely remained: Sicilia 6, Bohemia 1.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)