‘King Lear’ review – Ian McKellen plays the tragic role with blistering emotion and bravado

McKellen delivers a bold and striking performance as the ill-fated king in this epic Shakespearean tragedy – ★★★★☆

McKellen gazes out into the audience after an incredible three-hour performance at the theatre where he made his debut 54 years ago. There’s a feeling that this is a standout role in the actor’s incredible career – a bittersweet, personal reflection on a phenomenal acting history.

Ian McKellen (left) and Danny Webb (right) deliver bold performances as Lear and Gloucester respectively. Photo: Johan Persson.

“I’m not the first actor who has wanted to return to this play, as if unfinished business,” he writes in the official programme. “Perhaps it’s just that the closer you get to the King’s age, the more telling it becomes – for some, more a therapy than a job.” It’s a sentiment present on the stage – a portrayal which feels incredibly personal and reminiscent.

The production, a West End transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre, is one bravely directed by Jonathan Munby. While the first half of the production is a slow establishment of the main characters, the mid-show cliffhanger and second half is where this modernised retelling really comes to life. Ben and Max Ringham’s harsh, drum-heavy score brings a sense of urgency to the story, and Lucy Cullingford and Kate Waters choreography work – as movement director and fight director respectively – maintain the tense and eccentric tones of Shakespeare’s work.

It’s a sense of elegance that also comes with the performances, too. James Corrigan’s Edmund is one of cunning villainy, brilliantly expressive to the extent that his lines are completely accessible to a modern audience. Luke Thompson (Edgar) and Danny Webb (Gloucester) work perfectly as individuals, but also as a duo, effortlessly bouncing off each other’s lines to create two broken characters worthy of the audience’s empathy.

With immersive set designs from Paul Wills – to the extent that even the fake rain smells of petrichor – King Lear feels more like a cinematic film than a stage production (one images those who saw the recent NT Live showing of the play will agree). Yet, of course, theatregoers would expect nothing less for such a legendary star of both stage and film.

King Lear is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3 November. 16 to 25 year olds can purchase £5 tickets on the day through the Chichester Theatre’s Prologue scheme.

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‘The Jungle’ review – a raw and important tale of community at the heart of the refugee crisis

Incredibly immersive and delivered by a phenomenal cast, The Jungle gets to the heart of the refugee crisis in an emotional tale of hope, community and companionship.

In the UK, the Calais Jungle and the refugee crisis have only been observed from afar. Media coverage shines a light on the issue, but there is still a degree of separation – a barrier instantly broken down in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s latest production.

With singing and dancing too, this West End production is a brilliant piece of theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

If you’re lucky enough to get stall seats, then you find yourself in Miriam Buether’s ‘Afghan Cafe’, the stalls section which is very much part of the stage. Actors hand out leaflets about “another proposed eviction of the Jungle”, naans and drinks to audience members as they enter. Cultural music plays. The fourth wall is instantly broken, and you are immediately immersed in the environment.

It’s the sense of community which really shines through over the two hours and forty minutes, as cast members bounce off each other’s performances seamlessly and with ease.

So much so that there is not one overall stand-out actor. Ammar Haj Ahmad (who plays the main protagonist, Safi) delivers mesmerising monologues in an embracing and welcoming tone, whilst Ben Turner charms as the dedicated restaurant owner, Salah. Black Mirror star Alex Lawther is impressive as a British aid worker, and Trevor Fox offers some brilliant comic relief as Boxer.

Although fictional, Murphy and Robertson’s script does a phenomenal job of exploring the Calais Jungle with pure honesty. Okot (John Pfumojena)’s monologue about his attempt to make it to the UK is one of the most heartbreaking and moving parts of the play. Important points about the crisis are bluntly communicated throughout – as much as the play draws you in, it also leaves you with questions to ask once you’ve left your seat.

As such, The Jungle stands as both an excellent and important work of theatre and as one of the most important plays to see this year. Thought-provoking, moving and incredibly immersive, this must-see production is exactly what theatre should be.

Rating: 5/5

The Jungle is now playing at The Playhouse Theatre in London from now until the 3 November.

‘Consent’ review – Nina Raine’s thought-provoking elaborate production raises many questions in a tense blend of love and justice

In a detailed exploration of love, justice and the law, Consent raises a lot of questions for the audience to ponder – both curious and confusing ones.

One would think that such confusion would come from the technicalities of the play being one of a legal nature, but Raine’s research shines confidently throughout in the writing. Instead, in a production which explores the many relationships of the characters on stage, what starts as a straightforward tale expands into something far more complex and puzzling.

From left: Adam James, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lee Ingleby, Clare Foster and Claudie Blakley. Credit: Johan Persson

Thankfully, this doesn’t stop Raine from raising some interesting points in the dialogue of her characters. The History Boys’ Stephen Campbell Moore and The A Word‘s Lee Ingleby are amongst the cast who deliver powerful performances and showcase excellent character development. The atmosphere’s tense, and the individuals three-dimensional – often expressing contrasting opinions throughout, which is particularly interesting to see.

Mix the topic of the play and the characters with a classical score and limited set design, and things start to feel a little more intense. Yet such a tone and pace for a play which explores many ideas does lead to some points being lost. It’s upon re-reading the play text that you begin to see some of the foreshadowing and wider, underlying discussions.

An impressive cast and excellent dialogue feature in Consent, but as the plot develops, some of the production’s underlying points get lost along the way.

Rating: 3.5/5