King Lear offers high drama in the woods

After the comedy of Twelfth Night, Red Rose Chain introduce some high drama into their acclaimed Theatre-In-The-Forest with a production of King Lear. ANDREW CLARKE reports.

With the wind in the trees, the creaking of the branches and the atmosphere provided by the trees enveloping the natural performance space, Joanna Carrick is confident that the setting is perfect for this summer's production of King Lear.

Red Rose Chain's Theatre-in-the-Forest has become a mainstay of the region's cultural calendar and after romps such as Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale they are returning to dramatic territory with one of Shakespeare's great tragedies.

King Lear is the story of a foolish and vain monarch who, towards the end of his reign, is flattered by the overtures of two of his three daughters, with tragic consequences.

Having staged Hamlet and Macbeth in the forest, Jo said that this year audiences will be treated to a fabulous story of human frailty and vanity.

Despite the inherent tragedy in the tale, she said Lear is full of entertaining high drama and is a very physical, atmospheric play which is well suited to an outdoor setting in Rendlesham Forest on the outskirts of Ipswich.

In a surprising move which should give the production a dynamic edge Jo has cast 27-year-old Edward Day as the crazed king. Lear is usually the preserve of experienced older actors but Jo is convinced a younger performer can bring out other elements in the character which should provide the outdoor production with added energy.

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She said: 'It's an epic story, a big, large-scale, fairytale. You've got princesses and the fool – there's so much excitement as well as action and battles, and it's very, very funny. People often overlook that. It's got some wonderful one-liners.' She has directed the play in a very engaging and very physical way. 'I think Edward Day is a comic genius. We did Twelfth Night together last year and he played Bottom amazingly well the year before. He is so brilliant at invoking character. I think he will be fantastic at playing age, which is really playing experience and showing it through the physicality. Rendlesham is a very big auditorium and therefore the performance style has to be very bold.'

Edward is one of the youngest actors to play Lear on the professional stage and he admits that when offered the role he was more than a little daunted.

'When Jo first suggested it I thought: 'You're mad! I can't play Lear.' But then when I settled down and I started thinking about it I realised that it's just like playing any other role - you've got to sit down and think 'Who is this person?' and act the person rather than the age.

'For me, my way into that part was when I realised that Lear is an old man who is close to death, and he is terrified of it. He is terrified of letting go. I think anyone can relate to that.'

During pre-rehearsal discussions Jo and Ed hit upon the idea that Ed should also play the Fool, but the Fool would be represented by a puppet worked by Lear. 'The Fool is counselling Lear,' explains Ed. 'He's telling him he's making all these stupid decisions and putting his faith in the wrong people. It's a classic example of hearing those warning voices in your head.'

For Jo, Rendlesham Forest provides her with her favourite theatrical setting. 'It's a natural outdoor arena.

'The intimate setting in the forest clearing means that hearing the dialogue is not a problem. I'm so pleased that in 12 years we have never had one person complain that they couldn't hear what was being said.'

The performances have no recorded sound; everything is created on stage and, because of the natural acoustics of the clearing, the sound does carry brilliantly.

'It's what Shakespeare is really about.'

? King Lear is being staged at Rendlesham Forest until August 26, �22-�20 (�10-�8 cons), �52 family, 01473 603388,